Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

The duke and king continue to practice Shakespeare. After a few days, the group arrives at a small town, where the duke posts a bill advertising his and the king’s performance. Huck notices that the town is dilapidated: the houses aren’t painted, weeds grow in the gardens, and hogs loaf around everywhere. In town, Huck overhears a conversation in which one man tries to bum tobacco off of another.
In contrast to the Grangerford estate, which is well-kept and beautiful, the town Huck explores in this passage seems neglected and impoverished, and its citizens are immediately portrayed as lazy and aimless.
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By noon, many townspeople are drinking. Huck witnesses three fights. One townsperson cries out that “old Boggs” is riding into town, drunk, much to everyone’s excitement. Boggs has a reputation for insulting people. He even asks Huck if he’s prepared to die. Though Huck is scared, a townsperson assures Huck that Boggs is good-natured and harmless. Boggs begins to shout for a man called Colonel Sherburn, whom he says he will kill. People laugh and talk, that is, until Sherburn steps out of a shop and tells Boggs he is tired of his antics but will endure it, if only till one o’clock.
Boggs is a kind of harmless Pap, debauched but non-violent. While he seems scary to Huck, one has no real need to fear him; he is not what he seems. In contrast to Boggs is Sherburn, who is maybe the most sincere character in the novel. He says what he means and does what he says. In this sense, Sherburn, in his sincerity, stands apart from the hypocritical society of which he is part,
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Boggs continues to carry on about Sherburn. Townspeople try to shut him up, telling him he only has fifteen minutes till one o’clock, but to no avail. A man runs to fetch Boggs’ daughter. About five or ten minutes later, Huck, having walked down the street, sees Boggs, no longer on his horse, nervous-looking. Sherburn calls out Bogg’s name, and, just as Bogg’s daughter arrives on the scene, Sherburn shoots Bogg to death. The townspeople resolve to lynch Sherburn.
True to his word, Sherburn tolerates Boggs’s antic till one o’clock, after which he murders the innocent man. He makes laws, however unjust, and enforces them with brutal surety. Society, in turn, resolves to enforce their law against murder by lynching Sherburn, but, as we will see, society is not so firm as the fiercely constant Colonel.
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