Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Foil 3 key examples

Chapter 18
Explanation and Analysis—Col. Grangerford’s Moods:

After getting separated from Jim, Huck spends time on land with the Grangerfords, an aristocratic family who take him under their wing. Impressed with Col. Grangerford’s temperament, he describes the man using a pair of metaphors:

He didn’t ever have to tell anybody to mind their manners—everybody was always good-mannered where he was. Everybody loved to have him around, too; he was sunshine most always—I mean he made it seem like good weather. When he turned into a cloudbank it was awful dark for half a minute, and that was enough; there wouldn’t nothing go wrong again for a week.

Huck compares Col. Grangerford’s mood shifts to shifts in weather—he was “sunshine most always” but “turned into a cloudbank” about once a week. It’s notable that Huck uses weather in his metaphor. Clearly, his time on the Mississippi River has changed him, and he has gotten used to paying close attention to the ups and downs of nature.

This moment is also noteworthy because it sets Col. Grangerford up as a foil to Huck’s abusive and unruly father, Pap. While Pap was angry and violent most of the time, Col. Grangerford is cheery most of the time, and when he is upset, it’s for “half a minute, and that was enough.” Unfortunately, Huck’s expectations of the Grangerford family’s temperament are dashed when he finds out just a page later about the decades-long violent feud the Grangerfords are engaged in. This is yet another example of the types of hypocrisy that Huck becomes aware of over the course of the novel.

Chapter 19
Explanation and Analysis—The Duke and the King:

The duke and the king—two con men who join Huck and Jim on their raft on the Mississippi River—act as foils to the main pair. Twain intentionally juxtaposes the two pairs of men so that readers can understand the differences in their motivations. Whereas Huck and Jim lie about their identities in order to protect themselves (from an abusive father and slave-catchers, respectively), the duke and the king lie in order to con people and steal their money. Though Huck is open-minded about the men at first, he sees through them quickly:

It didn’t take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn’t no kings nor dukes at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds.

In labeling the duke and the king as frauds, Huck makes it clear that he sees himself and Jim differently. This is significant because, near the beginning of the book, Huck is skeptical about helping Jim and considers turning him in. When he and Jim have almost escaped on their raft, leaving the duke and the king on shore, Huck is at first ecstatic to be back on the raft with his friend—"it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river and nobody to bother us”—and then is distraught when the two con men find their way to the raft before it floats away.

While Huck and Jim escape a freedom in which they can live moral and meaningful lives, the duke and the king seek a freedom in which they can cause as much harm as they want with no consequences.

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Chapter 41
Explanation and Analysis—Tom vs. Huck:

In Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer is a foil for Huck, meaning that his presence is used to reveal information about Huck, such as his values and intentions. In comparing Tom’s immature and careless behavior in the later chapters of the book to Huck’s cautious behavior and critical thinking, readers understand how Huck has grown up over the course of the novel. While Huck starts the book as just another follower in Tom’s gang of boys, by the end he comes to develop his own moral compass and questions Tom’s single-minded focus on following the rules of his romance and adventure novels, especially when those rules lead to Jim being re-enslaved.

After Jim is recaptured and Tom is shot due to his own adventurous antics, Huck not only worries about Jim and Tom but also Tom’s Aunt Sally, who is worried about Tom not coming home:

But [Aunt Sally] was on my mind and Tom was on my mind, so I slept very restless. And twice I went down the rod away in the night, and slipped around front, and see her setting there by her candle in the window with her eyes towards the road and the tears in them; and I wished I could do something for her, but I couldn’t, only to swear that I wouldn’t never do nothing to grieve her any more.

This moment highlights how, unlike Tom, Huck cares about the people around him and wants to “do something” to help them feel better. While Tom doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions, Huck can’t sleep because he’s worried about the effects of his and Tom’s actions.

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