Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 16 Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn't ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, "Give a nigger an inch and he'll take an ell." Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn't even know; a man that hadn't ever done me no harm. (16.8)
Okay, aside from how gross this passage is, notice the contradiction. Huck says "his children" when he's talking about Jim, but then, just two words later, says that those children "belonged" to a different man. Does Huck realize this contradiction, on some level? Or is this Twain, pointing out how much Huck still has to learn?
Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I 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 conscience, no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn't rest; I couldn't stay still in one place. It hadn't ever 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. I tried to make out to myself that I warn't to blame, because I didn't run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn't no use, conscience up and says, every time, "But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody." That was so—I couldn't get around that noway. That was where it pinched. (16)
Talk about moral crisis. Huck realizes that, according to the laws of the land, he's the wrongdoer, because he's helped Jim escape. And Huck may be a liar and a runaway, but he's not sure he should be breaking any laws. His internal system of morality is in head-on conflict with the external system of laws that he's learned from the widow. Which one's going to win?
I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him. My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, "Let up on me—it ain't too late yet—I'll paddle ashore at the first light and tell." I felt easy and happy and light as a feather right off. All my troubles was gone. (16.9)
We hate to break it to you, but almost everyone is happier going along with the dominant social practices—like helping out the Nazis before World War II, or agreeing that black people really should be enslaved. It's way hard to go against everything that you've been taught, and everything that your family and friends believe. No wonder Huck feels better when he decides to rat Jim out.