The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A man, speaking out of a window into the darkness, commands the dogs to hush and asks, “Who’s there?” Huck says that he’s George Jackson, only a boy. The man asks if Huck knows the Shepherdsons. Huck says that he does not, but the man remains skeptical. Nevertheless, he invites Huck into the house, but tells him that, if anybody is with him, Huck better tell them to stay back lest they be shot. Huck slowly approaches and enters the house, greeted by a family, the Grangerfords, some of whom are armed. All of them agree, though, that Huck is not a Shepherdson.
As a rule, Huck, however receptive and empathetic, distrusts the people he meets on his travels, giving false names as a matter of course. But, as this scene makes clear, it’s not only Huck who is distrustful: the Grangerford who invites Huck into his home is skeptical of Huck too. While it is good of the Grangerfords to overcome their distrust, it is also sad that their society is structured in such a way as to engender such distrust at all.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The Grangerfords are welcoming and friendly and provide Huck with a meal, clothes, and a place to stay. The boy who lends Huck clothes, Buck, is about as old as Huck is. He boasts that if there had really been Shepherdsons outside, he would have killed one. His father tells Buck that he’ll get his chance to do just that, but all in good time. After changing into dry clothes and speaking with Buck, Huck goes down into the parlor to find the Grangerfords smoking and talking. He eats and talks with them. The family assures Huck that he can stay with them for as long as he likes.
Buck is like Huck in almost every way, even in the sound of their names, except for the fact that he is embroiled in an inherited family feud. While the Grangerfords seem good, that the youngest of them should be so bloody in his thoughts is shocking. Of course, Buck cannot be held accountable for his involvement in the feud. As Huck was harmed by his father, so too is Buck harmed by his, though in a subtler way.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Huck admires the Grangerford’s home, many of the features of which, like the brass doorknob and the brick-bottomed fireplace, are more characteristic of a house in town than in the country. Huck also admires the family’s collection of books, which includes classics like Pilgrim’s Progress, which Huck finds “interesting” but “tough.” Hanging on the parlor walls are pictures depicting people and scenes from Revolutionary America, like George Washington and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Huck and Pap’s household is contrasted with the Grangerford household: whereas the former is characterized by laziness and meanness, the latter is civil, literate, and historically conscious. Despite all their cultivation, however, the Grangerfords are still hypocritically engaged in a barbaric feud with the Shepherdson family.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Also hanging on the walls are pictures painted by a member of the Grangerford family, Emmeline, a little girl who died young, all of which are dark in theme and color. Her masterpiece is of a woman preparing to jump from a bridge, but Huck thinks the woman looks too “spidery.” Emmeline also wrote poetry about the deaths of men, women, and children; for example, a ballad for a boy who drowned in a well. Huck likes Emmeline’s art, and even tries to pay tribute to her with a poem of his own, but he proves unable to write one. Emmeline’s room, Huck says, is kept the same as it was on the day she died.
If Huck is a vital realist in his speech and actions, Emmeline is a morbid romantic, whose imagination is as grandiose as Tom Sawyer’s, but much darker. Could it be the case, though, that her art is about death only because it is a classical artistic subject? The literary form at which Huck is most at home is the novel, which, unlike Emmeline’s poems, is stuffed to the brim with life.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
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