Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

The duke and king, pretending to be Harvey and William Wilks, are received by Peter Wilks’s family, including his niece Mary Jane, whom Huck thinks is very beautiful. When the duke and king approach Peter’s coffin, all the people gathered go quiet, and the two con men begin to cry their eyes out, and everyone else starts to cry too. The duke and king work the crowd, and Huck finds the situation “disgusting.”
Huck seems especially disgusted by this scene because the duke and king are not exploiting the badness of society, as they did with their Royal Nonesuch con, but rather its goodness, the love of people for other people. This is an important lesson for Huck in determining how to act well and live a good life.
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The king addresses the crowd, saying how hard it was to lose Peter and how grateful he is to those gathered. Someone begins to play music, and the king resumes, inviting close friends of the family to supper that night. As the duke makes signs with his hands and goo-goos like a baby, the king goes to the townspeople and addresses mostly all of them by name, and informs them about what Peter had written to him.
One of the duke and king’s strategies to protect their cover is to ingratiate themselves with society, to make people like them so that, if their integrity comes into question, people trust their own emotional responses rather than the facts. The con men do so by inviting people to dinner, for example, and personally addressing them; in general, by making people feel special.
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Mary Jane fetches the letter her uncle left behind, and the king reads it and cries. In the letter, Peter Wilks bequeaths to his nieces his house and three thousand dollars in gold, and, to his brothers, three thousand dollars in gold. The letter also says where the gold is hidden.
The duke and king’s scam appears to have a significant payoff: lots of gold, which in turn promises to free the duke and king from financial worries. The king’s tears may seem false, but could they also be tears of vulgar joy?
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The duke and king, along with Huck, go to the cellar and find the hidden bag full of gold, and, even though anybody else would be satisfied with the mere sight of that much gold, the duke and king count it. They discover that there’s about four hundred dollar worth of gold missing. The two agree to make up the deficit with their own money so that, when counting the sum before the townspeople to prove that everything is being done fairly, no one will question what happened to the missing gold. The duke and king also agree to give their part of the treasure to Wilks’s nieces so that no one will even suspect them of fraud.
The duke and king express their greed in several ways here, from counting the money to counter-intuitively agreeing to give their part of the treasure to the Wilks girls. Of course, they do so to further ingratiate themselves with society and to gain more with that trust than they would be able to do otherwise. The duke and king manage to make seemingly good deeds serve selfish, wicked ends.
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Upstairs before the townspeople, the duke and king announce that they are giving what Peter seemingly bequeathed them to his nieces, because otherwise the two would feel as though they were robbing the girls. The Wilks girls hug the two con men, thinking the two their very loving uncles. The king goes on to invite all the townspeople to Peter’s funeral obsequies, which he mistakenly refers to as “orgies” until the duke discreetly corrects him. The king explains he uses “orgies” instead of “obsequies” because that is the word used in England, based on Greek and Hebrew etymology.
The duke and king’s ploy to earn the trust of society works with devastating efficacy, demonstrating again just how skillful the con men are at exploiting the folly of society. When the king almost blows his cover by referring to obsequies as “orgies,” with dark wit he covers his error by exploiting the language of worldly learning, which he rightly assumes to be over his audience’s head.
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A man, Doctor Robinson, laughs in the king’s face after he gives his etymology of “orgies.” The townspeople are shocked, but the undeterred doctor goes on to accuse the king of being a fraud. The townspeople tell him he’s wrong, and the Wilks girls cling to the king and begin to cry. But Doctor Robinson tells the girls that, as their father’s friend, he begs them to get the king out of their house. Mary Jane responds by giving the king Peter’s six thousand dollars to invest on her and her sister’s behalf. Doctor Robinson tells the girls that they will regret this day and takes his leave.
Doctor Robinson stands apart from society in his learnedness and shrewd evaluation of other people. These qualities allow him to expose the king, but they also lend him a condescending air that is shocking and abrasive. Even though the doctor is right in this case, he is not as good as earning people’s trust as the king, and so he fails to help people see the error of their ways. He would better be able to serve the greater good were he more empathetic.
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