The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Huck introduces himself as a character from Mark Twain’s earlier novel, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Huck says that, while the book is mostly true, Twain told some “stretchers,” or lies, but that that’s okay, because most people tell lies one time or another. Huck explains how, at the end of the adventure recounted in the earlier book, he and Tom Sawyer both became rich, and that the Widow Douglas adopted him and tried to “sivilize” him. However, Huck became bored with the Widow’s decency and regularity and ran away, but, at last, reluctantly returned when Tom told Huck that, if he returned, he could be part of Tom’s gang of robbers.
Though society, as represented by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, would condemn all instances of lying, Huck is a realist, able to look beyond the rigid rules of society in forming moral judgments. He recognizes that people lie and that, in some situations, lying is okay. Huck grows bored of societal rigidity and runs away, only to be convinced to return by Tom Sawyer's imaginative games, which promise a kind of adventure (if not "real" adventure).
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
After Huck returned to the Widow Douglas, she wept, dressed Huck in new clothes that made him uncomfortable, and again imposed on him a life of punctuality and manners. For example, the Widow Douglas requires that Huck not begin eating his dinner immediately after it is served, but that he wait until she “grumble,” or pray, over it. Huck says, though, that the food is good, even though each dish is served by itself. He prefers it when dishes are served together so that the juice “swaps around.” The Widow also imposes Christian values on Huck. However, Huck complains that the Bible is irrelevant to him because all of its characters are dead, and he doesn’t take any stock in dead people.
The rules of society are sometimes ridiculous to Huck, like praying before a meal, especially when one’s prayer sounds less like thanks than a grumbling complaint. Huck is also intuitively against how society separates things with arbitrary boundaries, like food here, but, later, classes and races. Just as Huck likes the juices of his food to mingle, so too is he inclined to cross societal boundaries in service of what his heart tells him is right. Such boundaries, like religion, serve the dead. Huck cares about the living—about life.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Religion and Superstition Theme Icon
The Widow Douglas forbade Huck from smoking in the house as well. Huck points out that the Widow condones useless things like studying the Bible, but forbids Huck from doing good and useful things, like smoking. Furthermore, he points out that the Widow herself takes snuff, a tobacco product, and says that this is alright, not on principle, but only because she herself does it.
The Widow Douglas is good and kind, and yet, like many members of society, she can be a hypocrite. What motivates her hypocrisy is self-interest: though she condemns Huck for smoking, the Widow doesn’t condemn snuff because she herself takes it.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the Widow Douglas’s sister, Miss Watson, teaches Huck how to spell, critiques his posture, and tells him about Heaven and Hell. Wanting a change in his circumstances, any change, Huck says he would rather be in Hell than in Heaven, much to Miss Watson’s consternation. She responds that she is living her life such that she can go to Heaven. Huck concludes that he’d certainly rather not go to wherever Miss Watson is going, but says nothing of this so as not to further upset her. He asks Miss Watson whether Tom Sawyer is going to Heaven or Hell. When Miss Watson says he’s going to Hell, Huck is glad, because that means he and his friend can be together.
Huck is frustrated with society as represented by Miss Watson’s lessons—by its strictness, its empty rules about how one must be and look—and he knows that society needs to change somehow. He wants to go to Hell because it sounds better than his current circumstances, less boring and more accepting. This choice foreshadows Huck’s later choice to be damned in saving Jim.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Religion and Superstition Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
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After Huck’s talk with Miss Watson, Huck goes up to his bedroom. He sits, tries to think cheerful thoughts, but is so lonesome that he wishes he were dead. He looks out his window at nature, sees the stars, and hears mournful, ghostly sounds in the leaves and in the birdcalls. A spider crawls on Huck’s shoulder. Huck flicks the spider into a candle, where it burns. Huck, frightened, takes this as a sign of bad luck. Soon afterward, he hears a meowing outside. Huck meows back and goes outside, to find Tom Sawyer waiting for him.
When Huck is alone, away from society, free, he sometimes becomes lonesome, specifically when he perceives signs of death, like the sound of the dead leaves, as they are reflected in the natural world. Such a feeling is only exacerbated by Huck’s childish superstitions, like his reading of the burning spider as a sign of bad luck. This lonesomeness is relieved when Huck is with friends like Tom.
Themes
Religion and Superstition Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon