The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tom insists that Jim make an inscription with his coat of arms on the wall of his hut, because all the prisoners in romances do. Jim says he doesn’t have a coat of arms, so Tom designs him one, which he describes using technical jargon that he doesn’t even really understand. Tom also writes inscriptions for Jim’s wall, all of which make him cry, so that he decides to have Jim carve them all into the wall.
Tom doesn’t understand much of what he reads, yet he blindly acts on his reading anyway, just as society blindly acts on untested, internally inconsistent beliefs. He may be better educated than Huck, but Huck is imaginatively freer than Tom. His immaturity lies in doing what his friend says.
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Tom changes his mind. Jim can’t carve inscriptions onto the wooden walls of his hut; he must carve them into stone. Tom proposes, then, that he and Huck steal a grindstone to carve the inscriptions into, and which can also be used to file the pens and saw. Huck and Tom set out to the mill to get the grindstone and role it back to the hut.
Tom is again a slave to the romantic convention he loves here, insisting on fetching the impractical grindstone. Huck says nothing. Does he love Tom too much to contradict him, or does he feel he just can’t out-argue Tom?
Themes
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
When they have the grindstone halfway home, Tom and Huck realize that they can’t roll it all the way without help, because it is too heavy, so they go back to Jim’s hut. There, they make it so that Jim can walk freely even though he still has a chain around his ankle, and he goes out and helps Huck roll the grindstone the rest of the way home. Tom superintends with great skill, Huck notes: “He knowed how to do everything.”
Jim achieves freedom in this scene for all intents and purposes, and yet, for whatever reason, he is bound to Tom’s plan so tightly that he helps the boys realize their ridiculous fantasy instead of making a break for it. Meanwhile, Tom oversees Huck and Jim as they work. like a little king, or, more shockingly, like a slave owner himself.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Having gotten the grindstone home and re-chained Jim to his bed, the boys are ready to go to sleep. But before leaving Tom asks Jim if he could bring some spiders, rats, and snakes into Jim’s hut, so that Jim can befriend them as the prisoners do in the books. Jim begs Tom not to, but Tom insists. Jim faults Tom’s plan, to which Tom responds by saying that Jim is wasting his opportunity to be the best, most famous prisoner of all time. Jim apologizes to Tom, and the boys shove off for bed.
The boys disturbingly re-chain Jim to his bed, which, we think, people committed to his freedom would not do if they were in their right minds. But Tom doesn’t seem to be in his right mind, exactly: he is happy to make Jim more uncomfortable than he already is, because he thinks that his plan will make Jim famous. His love of the conventions of romance is verging on obsessive.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
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