The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The duke and king ask Huck and Jim if Jim is a runaway slave. Huck says that Jim’s not and tells a lie, that he is an orphan traveling with a family slave. The pair, Huck goes on to say, has to travel at night, because so many people stop their raft to ask if Jim is a runaway. The duke proposes to invent a way that the four of them can travel in the daytime. Afterward, the duke and king overhaul the wigwam on the raft and decide to sleep in Huck and Jim’s beds. It begins to storm; Huck and Jim are posted as lookouts while the duke and king sleep.
The duke and king immediately reveal themselves to be selfish and exploitative, taking Huck and Jim’s beds and sleeping while Huck and Jim work. Huck doesn’t trust them, and he lies about his relationship with Jim, presumably to protect him from whatever the duke and king might have in store for him. But Huck’s commitment to non-conflict prevents him from disobeying the duke and king.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The next morning, the duke and king scheme as to how to make some easy money. They decide to put on a production of Shakespeare and begin to practice for a performance at the next town they reach. Having reached a little town down the bend, however, they’re surprised to find that no one is around. A sick black person in town tells them that all the townspeople have gathered for a religious revival camp-meeting back in the woods. The duke goes to a printing office in town.
Like Huck, the duke and king are fantastic performers, which requires of them a kind of freedom, the freedom to transform into different characters. The two are also adaptable: though they don’t find an audience to play to, they quickly and productively change their plans. While these are good traits, however, they can be misused, as the duke and king misuse them to selfish ends.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
With Jim still on the raft and the duke at the printing office, Huck and the king go to the meeting in the woods and find thousands of people there. A preacher and his congregants are singing a hymn, and the preacher soon begins to preach. The crowd goes wild. The king joins the preacher on the platform and proclaims to the congregants that he is a reformed pirate who, if given enough money, will return to the Indian Ocean to convert other pirates to Christianity, at last bursting into tears. A hat is passed through the congregation, and the king makes eighty-seven dollars.
The king turns society on its head. By pretending to represent its values, he really serves what he values, which is solely his own, usually material, interest. Even though the king’s story is wildly improbable, the worshippers give him their money, maybe because they are so zealous in their faith that they fail to see the truth before them, which Huck sees all the time: that people are not trustworthy.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Religion and Superstition Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the duke is in town at the printing office, selling bills and advertisements in, and subscriptions to, a town newspaper, making, in total, nine and a half dollars. He also printed a wanted poster describing Jim, so that he and the king and Huck and Jim can travel by day; for if anyone were to stop them concerning Jim, they could say that they have captured him and are returning him to his owners. All agree that the duke is pretty smart.
The duke’s plan that enables him and his companions to travel by day subverts labels of freedom and enslavement as they are established by society. It is by pretending that Jim is captured that his freedom can be preserved. To generalize this, the duke and king present a way of life in which playing along with society enables one to be free.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
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That night, as Huck comes up to replace Jim as the lookout, Jim asks Huck if he expects them to run into any more kings on their journeys. Huck says he doesn’t, much to Jim’s relief. Jim says that two kings are bad enough, drunk as they currently are. He also tells Huck that he asked the king to speak French earlier, and that the king told him that he had been out of his country for so long that he had forgotten his native language.
As good and understanding as Jim is, he recognizes that the duke and king are deeply selfish and, like Pap, debauched. That being said, Jim invests such a pure trust in people, despite knowing how bad they can be, that he accepts the con men as what they claim to be, even though the king himself can’t back up his claim to be French.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon