The color-coded boxes under "Analysis & Themes" below (which look like this: ) make it easy to track the themes throughout the work. Each color corresponds to one of the themes explained in the Themes section of this LitChart.
Analysis & Themes
Huck tries to take the money outside. He makes it as far as the parlor, where Peter Wilks’s corpse lies in its coffin and sleeping men sit around, before he hears footsteps coming toward him. Huck quickly hides the money in the open coffin and then hides himself behind a door. The footsteps are those of Mary Jane, who comes into the parlor, stands before her father’s coffin, and quietly mourns.
This scene, maybe more than any other, exemplifies Huck’s indifference to social norms and his commitment to fluid, practical solutions. His act of hiding the money in the coffin is a minor desecration, a fact revealed all the more starkly by Mary Jane’s respectful, loving mourning. That doesn’t diminish, however, the goodness of the act.
Huck creeps back up to his room, and night turns to day. In the afternoon, Peter Wilks’s funeral is held. Mourners walk past Wilks’s coffin, looking down, some crying. Huck notices how often people blow their noses, how soft and gliding and stealthy the undertaker is, and he concludes that Peter Wilks “was the only one that had a good thing.” As the preacher is speaking, a dog begins to bark. The undertaker goes out reassuringly, hits the dog till it’s silent, and comes back in. The townspeople appreciate the undertaker’s actions; he’s a very popular man in town.
Huck, with his love of life, is disturbed by how mawkishly miserable the mourners are, and also by the undertaker, who is cruel to a harmless dog and whose cruelty is bizarrely appreciated. Mourning seems a mere societal convention to Huck, who is free from sentimentality, thinking as he does that Peter is better off than the living in this case because he is free from self-imposed miseries.
After the king “got off some of his usual rubbage” by giving another speech, the undertaker seals the coffin. Huck can’t be sure whether the bag of gold is still in there or if somebody took it out, and he’s worried that Mary Jane and her sisters might never get it back. The king says he and the duke must be leaving for England, and tells the Wilks girls that they’re welcome to come. The two con men, meanwhile, are in the process of selling all of the Wilks estate, house and slaves and all—they plan to keep the money from the sale, then leave the unlucky buyer to discover once they are gone that the purchase is null and void because it was sold by men who had no right to sell it. Huck’s heart aches to see the girls get fooled like this, but can’t think of a way to safely expose the duke and king.
After ingratiating himself even more with the townspeople by exploiting their mawkish sadness, the king along with the duke prepares to complete the scam. Huck aches to see the girls, who are so good, get hurt, but he is not an idealist who would expose the con men without having figured out the logistics first. Huck has morally matured, but his sense of the practical is a constant in his decision-making.
In selling the Wilks’s family of slaves, the king separates a mother from her children. The Wilks girls are distraught at this, and, if Huck hadn’t known that “the sale was of no account” and that the family of slaves would soon be reunited, he figures he would have had to tell on the duke and king.
Later, the duke and king also question Huck about whether he’s been in their room. Huck lies and says that he hasn’t, but that he did see some black slaves go in there several times. The duke and king are upset to learn this, thinking the slaves stole the bag of money hidden in the mattress, but the two also know they can’t do anything because the slaves have already been sold. The duke and king yell at each other and, as they walk off, Huck is glad to have made it seem like the slaves stole the money without bringing harm to them.
It is hard to say whether Huck’s lie reveals Huck’s own racism, that blacks are predisposed to wrongdoing, or whether it merely exploits the duke and king’s own racist assumptions. Such a question does not concern Huck, however, who is just happy to have pragmatically protected his identity as the thief and to have done so without hurting anybody else. Huck cares about consequences, not means.
More help on this section...
• See quotes from Chapter 27