Huck regards Mr. Grangerford, who is the least frivolous of men, as being a gentleman, well-bred, dignified, a joy, but also the stern peace-keeper of the household if need be, though there is seldom the need. This is because all of the Grangerfords are respectful and good-spirited. The older sons of Mr. Grangerford are “tall” and “beautiful” in Huck’s estimation. One afternoon, they toast their parents along with Huck and Buck. The Grangerford women are all beautiful too, one proud, grand, but good, another gentle as a dove. Three Grangerford sons have died, along with Emmeline.
Mr. Grangerford is a foil to Pap. Where Pap is debauched and murderous toward even his own son, Mr. Grangerford is dignified and beloved, even in his just sternness. He is the kind of man who, we think, should be most self-reliant and self-governed. But, just like Pap, Mr. Grangerford is swept up by societal dictates to endanger his family in their feud with the Shepherdsons. That his children are so good and beautiful just shows how much he stands to lose.
Huck observes that many slaves serve the Grangerford family, each Grangerford being tended to by one slave. Huck himself has a slave to tend to him while staying at the Grangerford home, though, because Huck is not used to being served, he does not give his slave much work to do, while Buck, in contrast, works his slave very hard. Mr. Grangerford, Huck learns, owns many farms and over a hundred slaves, and it is by profiting from his slave-worked farms that Mr. Grangerford has amassed his wealth.
Just as the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud is hypocritical, so too is it hypocritical that a person as cultivated and seemingly good as Mr. Grangerford should own slaves. Indeed, the means of his and his family’s cultivation is built on slave labor. Buck may have read Bunyan, but he has learned from his father that owning and being cruel to slaves is a matter of course.
Huck learns that there is another aristocratic family living nearby: the Shepherdsons, as proud and grand as the Grangerfords. One day, as Huck and Buck are hunting, a Shepherdson named Harney rides by. Buck tells Huck to jump into the woods and Huck does so. Buck fires a shot at Harney, but only manages to knock his hat off. Harney rides toward where the boys are, gun in hand, but they run as fast as they can, not stopping till they reach the Grangerford home. Mr. Grangerford is pleased to hear this story recounted. However, he tells Buck that he does not want him to shoot Shepherdsons from behind a bush, but that he should jump into the middle of the road next time to shoot.
This passage introduces the Shepherdson family, who are in bloody conflict with the Grangerfords. Mr. Grangerford implies that the feud is waged for the sake of honor, which is bestowed by society on its members, like how Miss Watson imposes her values on Huck. Though seeking honor is dangerous, even fatal, Mr. Grangerford encourages Buck to seek it. Honor, it would seem, is more important to the Grangerfords than life itself.
Huck asks Buck why he wanted to kill Harney. Buck says he doesn’t have a reason, that Harney never did anything to him, but “it’s on account of the feud” that he would have killed him. Huck has never heard of a feud. Buck explains that it’s when one two families fight till everybody’s dead, and then there’s no more feud. Buck explains that many Grangerfords and Shepherdsons have died in the feud, and many have been wounded. He explains how, just this year, an old Shepherdson rode down and killed a young Grangerford, only to be killed himself a week later. Huck says the old man must be a coward, but Buck says there isn’t a coward in either of the two feuding families.
Like a miniature Civil War, the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud has cost many lives, and Buck himself casually supposes that it will end only when everybody involved has been killed, which only shows how pointless the bloodshed is. More than that, Buck doesn’t even know what the feud is about; he has pitifully inherited his bleak bloody fate from the society he lives in. What makes the feud all the more pathetic is Buck’s insistence that all involved are rather heroic. So many good people are killing one another, and all for nothing.
Huck goes to church with the Grangerfords and listens to a sermon about brotherly love, which he finds tiring but which the Grangerfords discuss approvingly at length. After church, Miss Sophia, a Grangerford girl, asks Huck into her room. There, she asks him to do her a favor and not tell anybody, which Huck agrees to do. Miss Sophia tells Huck to retrieve her copy of the New Testament from the church. As Huck enters the church, he notices many hogs resting on the cool floor. He observes that, while people go to church only when they have to, hogs go to church whenever they can.
It is ironic that the Grangerfords, who are waging a feud of brotherly hate, approve of the sermon on brotherly love. Hypocritically, what they approve is the opposite of what they practice. In this case, religion could instruct the Grangerfords in leading better, happier lives, but their commitment to Christian values is less than their commitment to senseless honor; or, worse, they don’t even realize that they’re hypocrites. Huck's innocent observations about humans and hogs in church allow Twain to drive home this charge of religious hypocrisy.
After retrieving Miss Sophia’s Testament, Huck shakes it and out falls a note, on which is written: “Half-past two.” Huck gives the Testament and note to Miss Sophia, who lights up when she reads the latter. Huck inquires as to what the note is about, but Ms. Sophia, secretively, doesn’t respond, and she sends Huck off to play.
This scene foreshadows Miss Sophia’s elopement with a Shepherdson boy. The note in the Testament is right at home there: its contents give Miss Sophia information about meeting with her beloved, whish is consistent with the ideal of brotherly love.
Huck heads down to the river, only to notice that the slave tending to him, Jack, is close behind him. Jack tells Huck that, if he comes down into the nearby swamp, he (Jack) will show him a lot of water-moccasins (a kind of snake). Huck, though suspicious, agrees, and follows Jack through the swamp. Instead of leading Huck to snakes, however, Jack leads him to Jim, hidden on a densely vegetated piece of land. Jim tells Huck that their raft survived the steamboat crash, patched up by Jim himself, and is hidden.
Right after Miss Sophia makes to rendezvous with her partner, Jack, of his own free will, and with benevolence, unites Huck with Jim. We might think that Jack is eager to help Huck because he has not been cruel as Buck is to his slave, and that he helps Jim because, like Jim, he also has a love for freedom. This scene also foreshadows Huck’s escape from the feud on the repaired raft with Jim.
The next day, Huck notices he is alone in the Grangerford’s house. He goes outside, where Jack tells him that Miss Sophia has run away to marry Harney Shepherdson. All the Grangerfords are out and about trying to prevent the marriage. Huck runs after the Grangerfords to the river road, where he finds mounted and armed Shepherdsons shooting at Buck and another Grangerford hidden behind a woodpile. Huck hides in a tree and watches one of the Grangerfords shoot a Shepherdson out of his saddle. The other Shepherdsons tend to the man, and eventually ride away. Huck calls to Buck, who begins to cry, saying that his father and brothers are dead, and that he wishes he had killed Harney the day he saw him on the road.
Like Romeo and Juliet, Miss Sophia and Harney come from feuding families but love one another nonetheless. Their families try to put an end to their love for no reason other than the feud, as if to protect the family name, but all their actions to that end only consume the families themselves in senseless bloodshed. Most of the male Grangerfords are wiped out, Buck becomes personally embittered towards the Shepherdsons, and it seems that he was right when he said that the feud will be over only when everybody’s dead.
The Shepherdsons ride back and shoot at Buck and the other Grangerford boy. Wounded, the two boys jump into the river. Huck feels so sick he almost falls out of his tree. He regrets, he says, ever having seen such things, and dreams about them often. After dark, Huck climbs out of his tree and vows never to return to the Grangerford house. He feels guilty for having ignited the day’s violence by not telling anybody about the note in Miss Sophia’s Testament, which he figures must have meant that Miss Sophia was to meet Harney at the time specified. As Huck creeps along the riverbank, crying, he finds two dead bodies, one of them Buck’s. Huck covers their faces, thinking how good Buck was to him.
Even though Huck hates the mindless violence he witnesses to the point that he feels sick, and the part of human nature that gives rise to such violence, he only does so because he has such a deep love for human goodness, like Buck’s as expressed before his tragic, senseless death. It is difficult to keep in mind, also, that Huck is just a boy, yet he feels as though he’s bearing the weight of so many deaths for not exposing Miss Sophia’s elopement with Harney. Huck grows from this experience, however: in the future, instead of even considering idealist solutions to problems, he will more and more privilege practical consequences.
Huck goes to where Jim is hiding. Jim is so glad to see Huck that he hugs him. Huck tells Jim to lose no time in shoving the raft off into the river so that the pair can leave the violence and danger of the feud behind them. Huck is nervous until he and Jim drift two miles away from where the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons live, at which point he feels safe, and he and Jim share a meal. Huck meditates that all homes seem “cramped up and smothery” except for a raft, aboard which “you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable.”
Even though the Grangerfords were a welcoming surrogate family to Huck, their lives were so cramped up with their mindless feud that no one could feel free in their company. Indeed, it is only on the raft, on the wide-open river, in the company of his surrogate father Jim, so to speak, that Huck can feel free and comfortable at all.