Novel Conversations is a podcast summarizing the world’s greatest works of classic literature: in 35 minutes you get the whole story from cover to cover. (If SparkNotes had an audio best friend, it would be us!) In each episode, Frank Lavallo hosts two readers, and the three of them give their reactions to the story and read their favorite passages along the way. Each episode features Endnotes by Ted Schwartz, a segment with interesting facts about the author.More episodes
S6 Ep 2
Host: Frank Lavallo
Readers: Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik
Author: Mark Twain
Year of Publication: 1884
Plot: The story of Huck Finn is about a fun-loving risk-taker youth and his adventures on the Mississippi River with a runaway slave named Jim. A blossoming friendship ensues on their freedom seeking voyage and beyond. Huckleberry Finn is most commonly viewed as a satire of racism, religion, morality, and social attitudes of the time, making it Twain’s most notable work and one of the great American novels.
Frank: Hello and Welcome. I'm Frank Lavallo and this is Novel Conversations, a podcast about the world's greatest stories. Each week on Novel Conversations I talk to two guests about one book and together we summarize the story for you. We introduce you to the characters, we tell you what happens to them, and we read from the book along the way. So, if you love hearing a good story, you're in the right place.
This week's Novel Conversation is about the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. And I'm joined in our conversation today by our Novel Conversations readers, Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik. Elizabeth and Phil, Hello.
Elizabeth & Phil: Hi Frank. Hi Frank. How you doing?
Frank: I'm doing fine thanks. Before we get started, I came up with three or four lines that I think can get us started on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It's not quite a summary but I think it'll get us on our way. Mark Twain's, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a story of Huck Finn as he travels down the Mississippi and into the heart of America. With runaway slave Jim as his companion, Huck seeks to escape the civilizing efforts of his guardian, the Widow Douglass, and the uncivilized life his abusive father would impose; and he seeks adventures. Jim just seeks his freedom. The people they meet and the adventures they have - while both Huck and America come of age, struggling with the great issue of the time - make up the novel of Huckleberry Finn.
Frank: You know, I really want to get into this novel and talk about it, but before we do, it actually starts with an explanatory note. Phil do you want to talk a little bit about that before we actually start talking about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
Phil: Yeah. The novel starts, kind of before it starts, with a preemptive explanatory by the author, on the dialects he's going to be using.
Frank: Right, Huck's dialect might read to us almost the same as Jim's dialect but if you actually parse out the words, and try to say them out loud, they are using a different vocabulary. (Phil: In different punctuation…) Yeah. Jim's dialect takes it getting used to it's hard to read. You almost have to read it out loud to understand it. All right Elizabeth. There's also a notice that the author puts into the novel before he actually starts the novel.
Elizabeth: I love this notice: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted. Persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished. Persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”
Frank: You know I was planning to spend a good portion of this novel conversation talking about the plot and the moral but, now I'm not so sure. (laughing)
Elizabeth & Phil: (laughing)
Frank: It’s alright, I’ll take my chances. So, Phil tell me how this novel starts?
(OUT: You know, I was gonna take a break here so that when we come back, we can talk about the plot and the moral, Now I'm not so sure! (laughing) No, I think we will take a break here and when we come back we are going to get into our novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Right now, you're listening to novel conversations. I'm your host Frank Lavallo. We'll be right back.)
(IN: Welcome back. You're listening to Novel Conversations. I'm your host Frank Lavallo. And today I'm having a conversation about the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and I'm having that conversation with our novel conversations readers. Elizabeth and Phil. So, Phil tell me how this novel starts?)
Phil: Well it's told by Huck, first person, he begins to recount briefly what happened in the previous book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It tells us a little bit about the found money that the robbers hid in the cave…
Frank: That's right. He's got six thousand dollars. And in 1855 he's probably one of the richest people in his town. (Phil: That was a lot of money.) And Elizabeth, what does he tell us about his living situation? That's also changed from his early adventures in the novel, Tom Sawyer.
Elizabeth: Well, he sort of admits to getting used to being civilized. He's living with the widows, he's going to school, he's learning how to read. (Frank: The widows?) Two sisters, the widows, Douglas and Watson. They're sending him to school, they're dressing him, keeping him clean, making him eat at a table, and say prayers.
Frank: All things Huck just can't stand. (Elizabeth: Yes and doesn’t understand.)
Phil: Occasionally, when it gets to him, he sneaks out at night and sleeps in the forest and smokes and swears and then he feels better the next day.
Elizabeth: Being civilized is to say some things before he eats, that's confusing to him, to speak in front of your food. He doesn't understand. He's supposed to say thanks for it. But he's like, to whom for what? Because he's also confused, each of the widows has a different god they worship.
Frank: One has a more merciful God. And I think it's Miss Watson's God, is perhaps a little bit more, wrathful.
Elizabeth: For sure, the fire and brimstone is alive and well in that house.
Frank: When he gets the chance, he does go off and has his own little adventures, actually had some fun with Tom Sawyer. They form a gang?
Elizabeth: They do. They had planned that in the last book, and they made good on it. Tom Sawyer's gang.
Frank: But, Tom has some very serious rules if you want to be in his gang.
Elizabeth: Huck almost didn't make it in.
Phil: Part of the rule is that if you snitch on the gang, then the gang will kill your family. And since Huck doesn't really have any family around to speak of - except his father, who they don't know where he is - they almost don't let him in, because they would have no one to kill.
Frank: But Huck can solve this problem.
Elizabeth: He offers up the widows. You can have them if I snitch on the gang. (giggling)
Frank: There's another problem with him joining the gang though too; Tom tells him that you have to be respectable to be in the robber gang. And by living out in the woods and not being civilized, then you can't be a robber.
Phil: Yeah, it's clear here that Tom is really deep into a fantasy world that he's read about in books.
Elizabeth: We have a sense here, Huck is a little more of a realist; and from his perspective, we see how silly Tom is but he's such an alpha in their group. And Huck is thinking, well Tom is more civilized, he's more educated, I'll believe what he says.
Frank: Well, he's the alpha because of these beliefs, because of some of these fantasies that he's read. And it's clear he's read some very interesting novels but maybe only bits and pieces.
Phil: I have to say this whole little passage really took me back to when I was a kid. We had our little clubs. (Frank: Did you make blood oaths, like they do?) I think we tried yeah when we were very young. (Frank: It was always hard to actually prick your finger though, wasn't it?) Yeah.
Elizabeth: Frank, you just had to pick a scab. (giggling)
Frank: I wish I'd thought of that. I would've made it a lot easier when I was a kid.
Phil: One of the funnier pieces, is after he finishes talking about the oath, which goes, if the member of the gang snitches, he says: ‘Must have his throat cut, have his carcass burn up, and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off the list with blood, and never mentioned again by the gang but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever.’ And then the next line is, ‘Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath.’ (everybody laughs)
Frank: And what was it that Tom wanted to do with this gang?
Elizabeth: They were going to rob, and steal, and the women were going to be captured, and eventually Tom said, the women would fall in love with him.
Frank: Right, actually I have that quote. This is what they're gonna do with the female hostages: ‘Kill the women. No. Nobody ever saw anything in the books like that. You fetched them to the cave and you're always as polite as pie to them. And by and by they fall in love with you, and never want to go home anymore.’ That's his plan for the women. The plan for the men though is of course they've got to kill them.
Elizabeth: Except for the few that will be ransomed. That's one of my favorite parts. I laughed out loud.
Frank: But none of them know the definition of ransom.
Phil: Well it's clear they don't need to know. That's just what the robbers do.
Frank: The next chapter in this novel does something that happens in a lot of the chapters. It skips a lot of time. So now we're four months later and sure enough Huck's in school.
Phil: And so Huck explains that at first, he hated school, but then he started to enjoy it as he began to be able to read and write…
Elizabeth: … and have friends. He enjoyed the social aspect of school; and of course, he had to remain respectable and stay in the gang. (Phil: Right.)
Frank: But these moments of somewhat civilized living are not going to last very long. He comes home one night...
Phil: He sees some tracks in the forest and realizes who it is. And we don't realize who it is, but we can tell through his urgency that it's something dangerous. So, he runs to Judge Thatchers, and quickly signs over his money to the judge…
Elizabeth: …who could sense the urgency in his voice and he said all right I won't ask you questions. Here's a dollar I will now own your fortune for you, but of course the judge knew he was making a deal with a twelve-year old, and he would continue to invest the money for him.
Frank: And it's quickly revealed what scared Huck so much. Huck goes home and he finds his dad, his Pap waiting in his room.
Elizabeth: Having climbed in the window. Ofcourse, the father has heard by now, his son has such a great fortune and he's come to claim his son and take his fortune.
Phil: Yeah. And even more importantly his father has heard that he can read and write. He even makes Huck pick up a book and read it. This makes Pap very, very angry.
Frank: Sure, he's furious. How dare you think you're better than me. I can't read. Why should you be able to read?
Phil: And so the tone of the book, I think, turns there to something a little more realistic and dangerous. Having come right off this - still kind of boyish fantastical adventures with Tom Sawyer - to this reality that Huck actually has some real problems.
Frank: And it gets much worse for Huck…
Elizabeth: This is a real robber. He tries to get custody of his son from the widows and the new judge in town doesn't know the history. So, he says it is his right to keep his own child. And it's interesting that he's using the entitlement of someone to own another. So, they try to reform Huck's father, take him into their home… (Frank: Who tries to reform Pap?) The new judge and that's a disaster too. He just can't stay sober.
Frank: What I found interesting was that he took a chance with the law, as you said, he felt he had an ownership right. But as soon as the courts don't seem to be giving him what he wants i.e. Huck and his fortune…
Elizabeth: …well he resorts to what he knows best. He just kidnaps Huck and takes off into the woods.
Phil: Yeah, he takes him down river to an old cabin, (Frank: Some old fisherman shack.) Yeah. He stays there for three or four months and actually gets used to it and can't even imagine being civilized after staying with Pap for a while, even though Pap locks him in the cabin when he leaves and comes home drunk and beats him.
Frank: Right, as Huck says, the only real downside was the beatings. If you get past the beatings, he was having a pretty good adventure of his own.
Elizabeth: He was smoking and swearing and this is the world he knew.
Phil: And we do find out that he has been trying to escape from the cabin, when he's locked in, but he hasn't been able to find anything to get out of this cabin.
Frank: He starts longing for what he doesn't have anymore. When he was told he had to go to school he didn't want to go to school. Now that he's told you can't go to school. He wants to go to school. So, he does decide he's got to get out of here.
Phil: Well, the beatings are getting worse and Pap is getting more and more drunk.
Elizabeth: Pap is so abusive on that last occasion and so drunk…
Frank: Pap tries to kill him. So, Huck knows he's got to leave, and he needs a plan.
Phil: So, the next time Pap leaves, Huck decides to put his plan into action. He's already stowed a canoe in a nearby creek that he had found floating down the river and he basically faked his own death. He goes into the woods and kills a hog. He's crashes the front door of the cabin down with an axe and sets up the scene.
Frank: He even drags a heavy rock in a sack through the grass to the boat landing as if a body had been carried off.
Phil: Yeah. He plants a little details. He plants things that might have been stolen and dropped along the way. And his plan is ultimately successful.
Frank: Right, he gets in his canoe, hides down in it, and just lets the river drift him along. (Phil: Right.) And where does he go?
Elizabeth: He goes to the island where he played with Tom, Jackson Island.
Frank: This is where the boys played robbers in the adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Phil: Right. And he knows his plan is successful because the next day, the steamboat is coming down the river with Pap and Tom and Aunt Sally.
Elizabeth: The whole town. The widows, and they're sending out the loaves of bread that are supposed to make the bodies rise. So, he grabs a loaf of bread for his lunch.
Frank: So, Huck all night, hears them booming on the river looking for him.
Elizabeth: This is a much better plan, executed in much more detail, and Huck doesn't even realize his own skill.
Frank: So, now Hucks on Jackson Island living by himself and, again, he's sort of enjoying the freedoms that he's got. He can smoke when he wants, he has breakfast when he wants, and he naps when he wants. But he soon learns he's not alone on the island; and Elizabeth who's on the island with him is quite a surprise.
Elizabeth: It is a surprise, he's shocked to find Jim. What would Jim be doing there? (Frank: And remind us again who Jim was…) Well, Jim is the widow's slave. And here he is, living in the woods, so its suspect why he's not with her. (Frank: Was Jim happy to see Huck?) Poor Jim thinks Huck's a ghost because of course Huck is dead to everybody in the town. And Jim is so superstitious. And it takes him weeks to convince Jim that he's actually flesh and blood. When he finally relays the whole story of his plot to leave his father, Jim's quite impressed.
Frank: But Phil what is Jim doing on this island. He's a slave.
Phil: Jim's on the island because he's overheard one of the widows talking about selling him. She could get eight hundred dollars for him and he doesn't want to leave his family, obviously, so he takes off.
Frank: So now he's an escaped slave. And Huck doesn't really know what to make of this.
Elizabeth: Well his first reaction is, that's so terrible, because he knows that's what society would say. But his other instinct is to say, that would be so terrible to sell Jim and to have him leave his family, he’s clearly so upset.
Phil: Yeah, this point in the book he really begins to wrestle with some issues of morality. It's very clear that he's torn between what he's known his whole life, which is if there's an escaped slave you report him to the authorities. on the other hand he knows Jim so well. He knows that Jim would be taken away from his family. He's really torn.
Frank: That's right. This is how Huck Finn talks about it in the novel. ‘Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well I can tell you it made me all trembly and feverish to hear him because I'd begun to get it through my head that he was most free; and who was to blame for it. Why, me. I couldn't get that out of my conscious. No how nor no way. It got to troubling me, so I couldn't rest. I couldn't stay still in one place. It had never come home to me before. What this thing was that I was doing. But now it did, and it stayed with me and scorched me more and more.’ Just as Huck wants his freedom from his pap. It's reasonable to expect that Jim would want to be free as well.
Phil: Yeah and this begins a major relationship that the entire book turns on. And also most of the plot.
Frank: And while they're on the island, Jim and Huck have a couple of adventures of their own don't they.
Phil: They find a cave, they explore the island, Jim actually gets bitten by a rattlesnake; and they see a house go floating by (Frank: A house goes floating by?) Yes exactly. Huck and Jim decide to explore. They hear voices coming from the house. And it turns out to be two robbers who've also jumped on the house or were in the house when it floated away. We don't know.
Frank: Essentially scavengers, just as Huck and Jim look in to see whatever they can get out of this house.
Phil: Yes, and they also find the body of a man. And Jim covers the man's face and won't allow Huck to see the man. But they also gathered some loot, a couple of calico dresses I believe.
Frank: That's right. But then they're heard. And so, they need to make their escape pretty quickly.
Phil: They jumped back into their canoe back to the island.
Frank: But Elizabeth. There comes a time when Huck learns that they really do need to leave the area.
Elizabeth: That's right. Huck took some of the clothing from this house disguised himself as a girl and ventured back into town to see what was going on and catch up on the news. (Frank: He dressed as a girl?) He did, it's hysterical. He really believed that he looked and sounded like a real little girl. He visits a woman in a house nearby and thinks that he's completely fooling her. But she figures out pretty soon that this is a boy she's got in her house.
Frank: Well she tricks him, two ways, to find out that this is a boy.
Elizabeth: Well she tosses him some yarn which he catches by putting his legs together. She says of course any girl would know you'd catch the iron in your skirt. And she asks him to throw something to her and of course he throws it like a boy. So, she sends him along and says, ‘Now trot along to your uncle… Sarah Mary Williams George Alexander Peters; because he's made up this ridiculous name and can't keep it straight.
Phil: She also adds, which I thought was funny, ‘You do a girl tolerable poor but you might fool men, maybe.’
Frank: (laughing) You won’t fool the women, but you might fool the men. (Elizabeth: (laughing) Right.) And this woman realizes this is a boy. But of course, she doesn't know it's Huck Finn and she tells him the story of Huck Finn and that story shocks him. She tells him it's Jim who's his murderer.
Phil: Everyone suspects the runaway slave to have killed Huck and then run away because they both went missing at the same time.
Frank: Huck needs to get out of here and get to Jim…
Phil: So, he hurries back to the island and quickly pack everything up and are off down the river…
Frank:… and everyone's gonna be out looking for a runaway slave…
Elizabeth: …who killed a little white boy.
(OUT: Okay. You know I think before we move on down the river with Huck and Jim this is a good place for us to take a break. Right now, you're listening to Novel Conversations. I'm your host Frank Lavallo. And today I'm having a conversation about the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. We'll be right back.)
(IN: Welcome back to Novel Conversations. I'm your host Frank Lavallo. And today I'm having a conversation about the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. And I'm joined in my conversation by our Novel Conversations readers. Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik. Okay. Elizabeth, Phil, before we left, Huck had just found out that everyone suspected that it was the slave Jim who had killed him. So, everyone in the area is now searching for the runaway slave so they know they've got to get on the river and they've got to get away.)
Frank: So, they put their raft out into the middle of the Mississippi River and let the currents take them away. And it's on this journey now that we really start to learn a little bit more about Huck and Jim and their growing relationship.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Jim is missing his family so deeply. He's sobbing. He cries during the night. He puts his head on his arms and knees and cries. And Huck realizes this man has so much emotion. He makes a comment, ‘much like a white man.’
Frank: He didn't really think that a slave would miss his children…
Elizabeth: …that he would have this emotional capacity; and this recognition and respect, deepen this friendship.
Phil: However, Huck still has a bit of the boyish mischief in him, and at a certain point, they become separated. Jim on the raft and Huck on the canoe, and they're kind of searching for each other through the fog of the river calling out to each other. And Huck finally comes upon Jim and finds him asleep, gets onto the raft. Jim wakes up and he says, ‘oh I've been here the whole time. you were just dreaming.’ This really confuses Jim for days actually. Huck realizes that Jim is so confused after a while that Huck becomes really remorseful about it, and upset that he's tricked him.
Frank: That's right. And here's how Huck described it: ‘It made me feel so mean. It was 15 minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to Jim. But I'd done it. And I weren't ever sorry for it afterward neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks and I wouldn't have done that one to fight a knowed it would've made him feel that way.’ There's some real remorse there.
Phil: There's remorse and there's a real sense of a growing friendship.
Elizabeth: Jim had the emotions a parent would have when they think they've lost their child.
He's really getting more love from Jim than he ever got from his Pap. (Elizabeth: Right.) All right, but they're floating down the river and the adventures continue. At one point they're actually run over by a steamboat.
Phil: Yeah and are separated. So, Huck goes in one direction, and ends up on the shore and this puts him in the middle of a family feud.
Frank: Kind of a funny scene here between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons; since they've been killing each other for years.
Phil: …and neither family really remembers why but, they just continue to kill each other. It's really a great satirizing of southern aristocracy.
Frank: You've got the Colonel dressed up in his white suit, taken his sons out to kill the other Colonel in his white suit and their son…
Elizabeth: …after they were in church together. (Frank: That's right .) With their guns between their knees and the preacher preaching about brotherly love. They go back to their fields and shoot each other.
Frank: Now Huck comes close to getting shot at in the middle of this feud but actually it turns out pretty well for him in the end because he finds his friend Jim.
Phil: Yeah one of the slaves from the Grangerfords takes Huck to see some, quote unquote, water moccasins, and it ends up being Jim in the forest. (Frank: And they're both very glad to see each other.)
They're actually relieved and ecstatic to find each other.
Frank: And not only that, but Jim was able to save most of the raft so they can get back on their raft and get down the river and continue to have adventures. Now they run into a couple of really interesting guys… the Duke and the King.
Elizabeth: Here's another turn in the story too because this gets a little scary.
Frank: Phil, who are these guys?
Phil: These are two grifters, con-men really, who Huck winds up saving.
Frank: They're essentially being chased out of the town and jump on the raft with Huck. And then they give us their story.
Elizabeth: This is where they begin to impress Huck and Jim, and they make up their own lineage. (Frank: And who do they claim they are?) Well they claim to be the Duke of Bilgewater in the heir to the French Throne…
Frank: …the long-lost son of the King of France, the Dauphin. Jim and Huck believe it.
Elizabeth: Well, Jim is thrilled to meet a Frenchman; he can't wait to hear somebody speak French. And I think Huck believes it at first but then he gets suspicious.
Frank: He eventually tumbles to them, right. But he knows it's a little bit easier to go along and get along (Elizabeth: Right.)
Phil: Yeah. At a certain point I think even Huck says that he has learned in these situations it's best to just keep your mouth shut. (Frank: And he learned that from his Pap.)
Elizabeth: And here we are. There's a child and an escaped slave. So, really they don't have a lot of claim for control of their raft and they know that they could be in danger if their stories are revealed too.
Frank: And actually, at first these two guys help out Huck and Jim. They come up with a plan to allow them to be able to run the raft in the daylight. Up until now they've had to hide during the day and run at night because they're running with an escaped slave.
Elizabeth & Phil: Right. Right.
Frank: What's the plan?
Phil: The idea is that they have actually captured Jim and they're taking him back. So that allows them to move freely about because Jim looks like a tied up escaped slave.
Frank: Aith two male adults on the raft it's a little bit easier to convince people that this is a captured slave. (Phil: Right.) But the adventures continue.
Elizabeth: Oh, they do…
Phil: The king and the Duke, they're working up a scheme for the next town they come to.
They decide to put on a show because one of them claims to be a great theater actor (Frank: Shakespeare!) Exactly, and this brings us to one of the funnier passages which is the soliloquy from Hamlet that has been kind of cobbled together I think from Macbeth and a couple other plays, that to be or not to be and he made it up.
Frank: Right. He writes it out as he remembers it and gets the Duke to memorize it.
Elizabeth: He says this is the speech, ‘to be or not to be that is the bare Bodkin, that makes calamity off so long life.’
Frank: Well clearly, they know their Shakespeare. How does their performance go?
Phil: Well, the performance is a disaster and they get run out of town. (Frank: But they're not daunted.)
No. They're professionals. They just shift gears and begin to plan their next scheme.
Frank: But first they've got to get to a town that would not have heard about the disaster the night before. So, they float down the river. They stop at the next unsuspecting town. And now what?
Elizabeth: And now they're planning their next show.
Frank: But it's gonna be a little bit different than their last show.
Elizabeth: It sure is. They're calling it the Kings Camillopard or the Royal Nonesuch. Sounds a little Shakespearean. (Frank: But what's the hook?) The hook is no women and children.
Phil: Ladies and children not admitted.
Elizabeth: Well we don't know why yet. But everybody in town is interested to see it for that very reason.
Frank: And what did they see that first night?
Elizabeth: Well this Camilla part is a made up human-animal that the Duke portrays, and he’s nearly naked; cavorts around the stage, everyone laughs for a few minutes but then the show's over. That's it.
Frank: But Phil these guys are shrewd and smart. What did they tell their audience?
Phil: Right they have a great plan which is to convince the audience that if they let the other townspeople know what a joke this show is that they'll be looked on as fools. So, they convince the audience to go around the town telling people what a great show it is and the next night it's packed again and it's just as terrible. (Frank: Just as terrible.) And they say the same thing. However, the third night Huck detects the scent of rotting cabbage and dead cats.
Frank: This time, the last night of the performance, the audience is ready for these guys.
Phil: And that's when they make their escape back to the river.
Frank: With all the admission fees.
Phil: Yeah of course.
Frank: And back on the raft back down the river. But Elizabeth it's not long before they've got another con to play.
Elizabeth: A big one. They learn that there's a gentleman in the next town who's just passed away left quite a fortune to his daughters. And is expecting two brothers from overseas for the funeral proceedings.
Frank: Right. So, these con-men pump this guy for more information about the brothers and the family.
Elizabeth: They figure they can take the roles of those brothers.
Phil: They're English aristocracy. So, they begin to put on a very poorly affected English accent…
Elizabeth: …just terrible and one of them is to be deaf. So, he's mimicking what he thinks is sign language.
Phil: Yeah. Even though these guys are con-men and they're kind of sinister. they're extremely funny throughout the book (Frank: Because they seem so incompetent to us.) Yeah and I think that's why they're often successful.
Frank: Does this can work out any better than their Shakespeare plays?
Elizabeth: Well the daughters do believe that these are their uncles, and they were closer to getting a larger pot of money…
Frank: ….there was almost six thousand dollars up for grabs here.
Elizabeth: But of course, the real brothers did show up and they had to duck out of town again.
Phil: They got away faster and was able to get on the raft and for a moment thought they were free of the King and Duke. But of course, later on down the river, they run across them again and so they're all back together.
Frank: And now they're going to stay on this raft and drift down the river for days. They've got to get away from any town that might have heard any of these stories. But they finally do come to a town that hasn't heard of anything and so the King and Duke decide to go ashore and see if they can pull another con.
Elizabeth: Because they've lost all their money after the last con. And their only chance to make some money now, is to turn Jim in.
Frank: Is that what happens?
Phil: Well, Huck goes into town and sees them playing cards and drinking and then he returns to the raft and Jim's gone; and he runs across somebody who says that they caught a runaway slave and he's at the Phelps's…
Frank: Down the river…
Elizabeth: …and we know it's the Duke and the King that turned him in.
Frank: So, Huck knows where he is, and he follows him. But when he gets to the Phelps Farm, a strange thing happens…
Phil: It’s expected but not expected. (Frank: You better explain that one…) They think he's Tom Sawyer. (Frank: Tom Sawyer?) Tom is Phelps's nephew. And of course, Huck completely plays along with this. But Huck knows that Tom is on his way. So, he goes to intercept Tom and tell him what's up. (Frank: How does Tom react when he sees a ghost?) It takes Tom quite some convincing for him to believe that Huck's alive. But he finally does, and they go about the plan.
Frank: Right, essentially Huck says to Tom, we need a plan to rescue Jim. He's being held as a runaway slave. We've got to get him out of here. Boy is Tom excited now. He gets to come up with a plan.
Elizabeth: He's into it the first minute it's mentioned.
Frank: Now, they each come up with a plan. Huck's plan is to pick the lock. Take Jim out of the hut and get on the raft and head down the river.
Phil: Yeah. Huck's plan is very realistic and simple. Tom's plan, however, involves many obstacles that he kind of dreams up.
Frank: Yeah. It becomes clear as Tom tells us his plan, he's read a little bit too much Count of Monte Cristo.
Elizabeth: Right. He's now seeing an opportunity for a great adventure.
Frank: Not only are they going to just saw off the bed leg to release the chain that Jim is connected to, but they've got to eat the sawdust, so no one sees it.
Elizabeth: It takes them a week. And they insist that Jim write them notes in his own blood and they pass him sheets and things to write on and he's got to carve a pen to do this.
Frank: They spend two weeks building a rope sheet ladder that they don't need, but it's in all the books.
Phil: The difference between Huck and Tom is so clear.
Frank: It becomes very clear. This is real life for Huck. This is life and death for Jim. (Phil: Yeah.) But for Tom it's an adventure.
Elizabeth: And this is where we really see that Huck has really been making adult decisions. And Tom really is a kid.
Frank: Absolutely. But Jim. Jim doesn't understand any of this.
Elizabeth: But he'll do it. They've been so close this whole time.
Phil: Jim's very trusting and he's the most mature out of all of them at the end.
Frank: How does this adventure end?
Elizabeth: Well it has a couple of phases. They do make a break for it one night, but it has a disastrous ending. Tom is shot by the group that's gone out after them.
Frank: Tom gets shot. Does Jim escape?
Elizabeth: No, Jim determines this is where he needs to be a good friend to Tom. (Frank: Jim does.?) Yes. So Jim abandons the escape and turns around to bring himself back to the farm and get Tom some help.
Frank: That's right. It's Jim who tells Huck we've got to get him a doctor.
Phil: Yeah. So, Jim sacrifices himself to save Tom.
Frank: Sure. Because when the doctor goes to see Tom, he finds Jim. (Phil: Yes.) So, after all these plans, Tom gets shot. Huck gets found out. And Jim gets recaptured.
Phil: Right. You would think this is the lowest point of the story for them all.
Frank: But we have one more surprise, don't we?
Elizabeth: Aunt Polly (Frank: Aunt Polly! Aunt Polly comes to visit her sister. She had a suspicious letter that her sister had enjoyed Sid's arrival. Aunt Polly knew something was up.
Frank: That's right. Huck was playing Tom. And Tom was playing Sid, his half-brother.
Elizabeth: So now that Aunt Polly has arrived, the game is over, essentially. And she also has the news that Jim is in fact free, because one of the widows has passed away in her will she had freed him.
Frank: Now, Tom knew this. He had never told anybody. (Elizabeth: The whole time!) And again, this points to what you said earlier, that this really shows us the difference between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. If Huck Finn had had this news about Jim, he would have shared it with Jim right away.
Elizabeth: This where you don't like Tom so much. (Phil: No.) You're mad at him. I mean Huck and Jim have been through so much and risked their lives so many times, that for Tom to play with their lives this way, you're angry with Tom.
Frank: But after Aunt Polly surprises us, Jim has a surprise of his own…
Phil: All along, Huck is still kind of worried about Pap, his father, coming after him. And Jim let's Huck know that it was actually Pap on the house that had been floating down the river, that was dead. And that's why he covered his face and wouldn’t let Huck see his face.
Elizabeth: That's right. So, now Jim is free, and Huck is free.
Frank: And those are the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What I’d like to do now, is for you to share some moments or passages from the book that we haven't had a chance to talk about. Elizabeth, do you have something for us?
(OUT: And with that we'll take a break here and when we come back what I'd like is for you to share some moments or passages from the book that we haven't had a chance to talk about. You're listening to Novel Conversations today we're having a conversation about the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I'm your host Frank Lavallo. We'll be right back.)
(IN: Welcome back to Novel Conversations. I'm your host Frank Lavallo. Today I'm having a conversation about the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and I've been joined in my conversation by our novel conversations readers, Elizabeth Flood and Phil Setnik. Okay. Elizabeth and Phil, before we left, I said that if there were some moments or passages from the book that we haven't had a chance to talk about or get to this is the time. Elizabeth, do you have something for us?)
Elizabeth: I do. I particularly enjoyed a description of the Colonel Grangerford character who Huck spent some time with when he and Jim get separated on the river; because this was a great description of a Southern Gentleman, the Plantation owner. It sounds like a description of maybe a Colonel Sanders cartoonish man almost; but this is what I picture Mark Twain to look like and I'll read it for you:
“Colonel Grangerford was very tall and very slim, and had a dark-ish paley complexion. Not a sign of red in it anywheres. He was clean shaved every morning, all over his thin face, and he had the thinnest kind of lips and the thinnest kind of nostrils. His hands were long and thin, and every day of his life, he put on a clean shirt and a full suit from head to foot, made out of linen so white it hurt your eyes to look at it.”
Frank: You know I've got to tell you, I'm very intrigued by the possibility that that's Mark Twain writing about himself. Phil do you have a moment or a quote that you wanted to share with us?
Phil: Sure. I rather enjoyed the first meeting of the Duke and the King. The two grifters:
“When they first meet, you get the sense that it's almost just like two business men are two lawyers or two doctors talking about their trade. One asks the other. What's your line? Mainly printer by trade. Do a little patent medicines. Theater actor. Tragedy. You know take a turn to mesmerize them, phrenology when there's a chance to teach singing, geography school for a change, sling a lecture sometimes. Oh, I do lots of things, most anything that comes handy, so it ain’t work. What's your lay?” So the other one goes on to explain his specialties… everything from healing cancer and paralysis to telling fortunes. He says he's able to tell fortunes, “…mainly when I've got somebody long to find out the facts for me.”
Frank: And you've got the feeling that Mark Twain was speaking from some experience of these kinds of characters, roaming the land, ripping people off, essentially.
Phil: Sure. Possibly he felt the same way about writing the book at the time.
Frank: That would explain his author's note at the very beginning. (Phil: Yeah.) I've got a quote here that I wanted to read. It's when Huck is talking about how Pap got to cursen’. I like this:
“Then the old man got to cussin’ and cussed everything and everybody he could think of. And then cussed em’ all over again to make sure he hadn't skipped any. And after that he polished off with a kind of a general cuss all around, including a considerable passel of people which he didn't know the names of and so called them what's his names when he got to them and went right along with his cussin’.
Elizabeth: (laughing) That is so great.
Frank: Phil or Elizabeth do you have another one?
Phil: I particularly thought that Huck's description when he first goes into the Grangerford’s house was really funny and very subtle actually. Huck goes on throughout this passage to describe these melodramatic pictures each featuring a young lady and a state of mourning each more melodramatic then the next. Another one was a young lady with her hair all combed up straight to the top of her head and she was crying into a handkerchief and had a dead bird laying on its back and her other hand with its heels up and underneath the picture it said I shall never hear that sweet cheer up more alas this was all nice pictures I reckon but I didn't somehow seem to take to them because if ever I was down a little they always give me the phantons, which I can only assume as the willies.
Frank: I think that's right, and I think those pictures would give me the willies as well. Elizabeth did you have another moment?
Elizabeth: I did. The really touching moment between Huck and Jim on the river. They think they're near the town that will be the point where they'll turn their raft and Jim will be free. They're anticipating it. They've been waiting for it watching for all night. Jim says to Huck. “Pretty soon I'll be shouting for joy and then I'll say it's on accounts of Huck. Huck done it. Jim won't ever forget you Huck. You've been the best friend Jim's ever had and you're the only friend Old Jim's got now.” And that's exactly the point where Huck was actually having this deliberation in his conscience, should he turn him in? He knows it's wrong to be out hiding an escaped slave. And then they miss the town.
Frank: And they're both very disappointed when they realize they've missed that point.
You know, I think I have that quote in that moment that you were talking about when Huck is trying to decide whether he should do the right thing, which in this case, would be to turn in the runaway slave. Jim. (Elizabeth: Yeah.) And he even goes as far as to write a letter. He's having trouble praying and he thinks if he writes a letter to Miss Watson and makes a confession about the runaway slave, that'll lighten his soul. So, he writes the letter:
“Miss Watson you're run away, Jim, is down here two miles below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Signed Huck Finn”… and then Huck Finn goes on to say… “I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I'd ever felt so in my life and I know I could pray now.” But then he doesn't start to pray right away. He thinks about it a little bit and he realizes what he's doing he's now consigning Jim to be a slave again for the rest of his life. And as we've said throughout our conversation, Huck changes during this novel and I think this is the point where he pivots. He realizes he can't do this; no matter how right it is, no matter how it might make him feel. He realizes he can't do it. And he finally says, “All right then, I'll go to hell.” And he tears up the letter. That for me is really the moment where Huck Finn becomes one of the world's greatest stories.
Elizabeth: I agree. That's actually the point where you fall in love with Huckleberry Finn.
Phil: Mm hmm. Yeah. I also think that's the point where you really see Huck as representative of this enormous struggle within the heart of the country at the time.
Frank: That's right, Phil, and I think it's because Mark Twain was able to put that entire struggle into one small novel that I consider this the first Great American Novel. And that's where we'll wrap up today's conversation on the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I want to thank you both again Phil and Elizabeth for coming in and having a conversation with me today.
Elizabeth & Phil: Thank you Frank. We really enjoyed being here.
Frank: Thanks again! You’ve been listening to Novel Conversations.