Study Guide

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Drugs and Alcohol

By Mark Twain

Drugs and Alcohol

"Yes, he's got a father, but you can't never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain't been seen in these parts for a year or more." (2.16)

Pap’s alcoholism is no secret to the community. It explains others’ willingness and insistence at helping Huck all the time.

He took it and bit it to see if it was good, and then he said he was going down town to get some whisky; said he hadn't had a drink all day. When he had got out on the shed he put his head in again, and cussed me for putting on frills and trying to be better than him; and when I reckoned he was gone he come back and put his head in again, and told me to mind about that school, because he was going to lay for me and lick me if I didn't drop that. (5.28)

Violence is clearly associated with alcoholism in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Next day he was drunk, and he went to Judge Thatcher's and bullyragged him, and tried to make him give up the money; but he couldn't, and then he swore he'd make the law force him. (5.29)

Pap is belligerent and insistent when drunk.

He said he'd cowhide me till I was black and blue if I didn't raise some money for him. I borrowed three dollars from Judge Thatcher, and pap took it and got drunk, and went a-blowing around and cussing and whooping and carrying on; (5.31)

Pap shows no shame in his public displays of drunkenness. It’s a huge part of who he is –see our thoughts on him in his "Character Analysis."

…so every now and then I'd borrow two or three dollars off of the judge for him, to keep from getting a cowhiding. Every time he got money he got drunk; and every time he got drunk he raised Cain around town; and every time he raised Cain he got jailed. He was just suited – this kind of thing was right in his line. (6.1)

Pap’s alcoholism is cyclical in nature, and Huck has come to expect drinking binges and violence from his father.

Every little while he locked me in and went down to the store, three miles, to the ferry, and traded fish and game for whisky, and fetched it home and got drunk and had a good time, and licked me.

[…]

The old man made me go to the skiff and fetch the things he had got. There was a fifty-pound sack of corn meal, and a side of bacon, ammunition, and a four-gallon jug of whisky, and an old book and two newspapers for wadding, besides some tow. (6.3-8)

For Huck’s father, alcohol has become a priority over food and other necessities. Huck’s dad takes his need to feed the addiction to hurtful levels.

I got the things all up to the cabin, and then it was about dark. While I was cooking supper the old man took a swig or two and got sort of warmed up, and went to ripping again. He had been drunk over in town, and laid in the gutter all night, and he was a sight to look at. A body would a thought he was Adam – he was just all mud. Whenever his liquor begun to work he most always went for the govment. (6.9)

Huck has learned to expect certain drunken episodes from his father.

After supper pap took the jug, and said he had enough whisky there for two drunks and one delirium tremens. That was always his word. I judged he would be blind drunk in about an hour, and then I would steal the key, or saw myself out, one or t'other. He drank and drank, and tumbled down on his blankets by and by; but luck didn't run my way. He didn't go sound asleep, but was uneasy. He groaned and moaned and thrashed around this way and that for a long time. (6.12)

Huck tries to use his father’s alcoholism against him to plan an escape.

I don't know how long I was asleep, but all of a sudden there was an awful scream and I was up. There was pap looking wild, and skipping around every which way and yelling about snakes. He said they was crawling up his legs; and then he would give a jump and scream, and say one had bit him on the cheek – but I couldn't see no snakes. He started and run round and round the cabin, hollering "Take him off! take him off! he's biting me on the neck!" I never see a man look so wild in the eyes. Pretty soon he was all fagged out, and fell down panting; then he rolled over and over wonderful fast, kicking things every which way, and striking and grabbing at the air with his hands, and screaming and saying there was devils a-hold of him. He wore out by and by, and laid still a while, moaning. Then he laid stiller, and didn't make a sound. I could hear the owls and the wolves away off in the woods, and it seemed terrible still. He was laying over by the corner. By and by he raised up part way and listened, with his head to one side. He says, very low:

"Tramp – tramp – tramp; that's the dead; tramp – tramp – tramp; they're coming after me; but I won't go. Oh, they're here! don't touch me – don't! hands off – they're cold; let go. Oh, let a poor devil alone!" (6.13-14)

Pap’s alcoholism has gone so far as to make him delusional. The disease has completely taken over his life.

By and by he rolled out and jumped up on his feet looking wild, and he see me and went for me. He chased me round and round the place with a clasp-knife, calling me the Angel of Death, and saying he would kill me, and then I couldn't come for him no more. I begged, and told him I was only Huck; but he laughed SUCH a screechy laugh, and roared and cussed, and kept on chasing me up. Once when I turned short and dodged under his arm he made a grab and got me by the jacket between my shoulders, and I thought I was gone; but I slid out of the jacket quick as lightning, and saved myself. Pretty soon he was all tired out, and dropped down with his back against the door, and said he would rest a minute and then kill me. He put his knife under him, and said he would sleep and get strong, and then he would see who was who. (6.15)

Huck’s very life is put in danger by his father’s alcoholism.

Jim sucked and sucked at the jug, and now and then he got out of his head and pitched around and yelled; but every time he come to himself he went to sucking at the jug again. His foot swelled up pretty big, and so did his leg; but by and by the drunk begun to come, and so I judged he was all right; but I'd druther been bit with a snake than pap's whisky. (10.8)

Pap’s alcoholism has left Huck with only negative associations of alcohol. Huck is able to see, however, that everyone who drinks isn’t as harmful as his Pap is; he understands that his father is an extreme case.

Well, I was getting to feel that way myself, though I've always reckoned that looking at the new moon over your left shoulder is one of the carelessest and foolishest things a body can do. Old Hank Bunker done it once, and bragged about it; and in less than two years he got drunk and fell off of the shot-tower, and spread himself out so that he was just a kind of a layer, as you may say; and they slid him edgeways between two barn doors for a coffin, and buried him so, so they say, but I didn't see it. (10.9)

Huck blames the negative affects of alcohol on bad luck.

So then they put it on him, you see; and while they was full of it, next day, back comes old Finn, and went boo-hooing to Judge Thatcher to get money to hunt for the n***** all over Illinois with. The judge gave him some, and that evening he got drunk, and was around till after mid- night with a couple of mighty hard-looking strangers, and then went off with them. (11.18)

Huck’s father prizes alcohol over finding his son’s potential murderer. In our minds, this is the last straw – Huck’s dad gets zero sympathy from anyone in the novel. His level of addiction makes him act in inhuman ways.

And in he come, and Bill after him. But before they got in I was up in the upper berth, cornered, and sorry I come. Then they stood there, with their hands on the ledge of the berth, and talked. I couldn't see them, but I could tell where they was by the whisky they'd been having. I was glad I didn't drink whisky; but it wouldn't made much difference anyway, because most of the time they couldn't a treed me because I didn't breathe. I was too scared. And, besides, a body COULDN'T breathe and hear such talk. (12.38)

In this novel, alcohol use is associated primarily with criminals and thieves.

"Here comes old Boggs! – in from the country for his little old monthly drunk; here he comes, boys!" (21.30)

Again we see that alcoholism results in habitual, cyclic bouts of drunkenness.

All the loafers looked glad; I reckoned they was used to having fun out of Boggs. One of them says: (21.31)

Alcoholics are presented as an inferior bunch, to be made fun of by others.

"Wonder who he's a-gwyne to chaw up this time. If he'd a-chawed up all the men he's ben a-gwyne to chaw up in the last twenty year he'd have considerable ruputation now." (21.32)

A drunken man in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rarely seen as anything else – Twain depicts drinking in an all-or-nothing fashion. Logically, we know that drinking is not so black and white, so why is it here? Does Twain have a bias against alcohol, or does Huck only see alcoholics when they’re at their most destructive? In this world, no one can have just one glass of wine and call it a night. In the novel, alcohol is a dehumanizing source of evil.

Another one says, "I wisht old Boggs 'd threaten me, 'cuz then I'd know I warn't gwyne to die for a thousan' year." (21.33)

The townspeople find camaraderie in their superiority over the local wino.

Boggs comes a-tearing along on his horse, whooping and yelling like an Injun, and singing out: (21.34)

Boggs, much like Huck’s Pap, makes a fool of himself when drunk.

"Cler the track, thar. I'm on the waw-path, and the price uv coffins is a-gwyne to raise."

Boggs makes outlandish statements when drunk, but doesn’t physically harm anyone. See more about the doomed drunkard in the "Characters Analysis" for Colonel Sherburn and Boggs.

He was drunk, and weaving about in his saddle; he was over fifty year old, and had a very red face. Everybody yelled at him and laughed at him and sassed him, and he sassed back, and said he'd attend to them and lay them out in their regular turns, but he couldn't wait now because he'd come to town to kill old Colonel Sherburn, and his motto was, "Meat first, and spoon vittles to top off on." (21.36)

"He don't mean nothing; he's always a-carryin' on like that when he's drunk. He's the best naturedest old fool in Arkansaw – never hurt nobody, drunk nor sober." (21.40)

"He don't mean nothing; he's always a-carryin' on like that when he's drunk. He's the best naturedest old fool in Arkansaw – never hurt nobody, drunk nor sober." (21.40)

In contrast to Huck’s father, Boggs is a harmless man. Boggs’s presence in the novel helps Huck distinguish the difference between a person who is also all-out bad man and a person who has lost control but doesn’t hurt anyone else. Read more about Boggs in the "Character Analysis" for Colonel Sherburn and Boggs.

And by and by a drunk man tried to get into the ring – said he wanted to ride; said he could ride as well as anybody that ever was. They argued and tried to keep him out, but he wouldn't listen, and the whole show come to a standstill. Then the people begun to holler at him and make fun of him, and that made him mad, and he begun to rip and tear; so that stirred up the people, and a lot of men begun to pile down off of the benches and swarm towards the ring, saying, "Knock him down! Throw him out!" and one or two women begun to scream. So, then, the ringmaster he made a little speech, and said he hoped there wouldn't be no disturbance, and if the man would promise he wouldn't make no more trouble he would let him ride if he thought he could stay on the horse. So everybody laughed and said all right, and the man got on. The minute he was on, the horse begun to rip and tear and jump and cavort around, with two circus men hanging on to his bridle trying to hold him, and the drunk man hanging on to his neck, and his heels flying in the air every jump, and the whole crowd of people standing up shouting and laughing till tears rolled down. And at last, sure enough, all the circus men could do, the horse broke loose, and away he went like the very nation, round and round the ring, with that sot laying down on him and hanging to his neck, with first one leg hanging most to the ground on one side, and then t'other one on t'other side, and the people just crazy. It warn't funny to me, though; I was all of a tremble to see his danger. But pretty soon he struggled up astraddle and grabbed the bridle, a-reeling this way and that; and the next minute he sprung up and dropped the bridle and stood! and the horse a-going like a house afire too. He just stood up there, a-sailing around as easy and comfortable as if he warn't ever drunk in his life – and then he begun to pull off his clothes and sling them. He shed them so thick they kind of clogged up the air, and altogether he shed seventeen suits. And, then, there he was, slim and handsome, and dressed the gaudiest and prettiest you ever saw, and he lit into that horse with his whip and made him fairly hum – and finally skipped off, and made his bow and danced off to the dressing-room, and everybody just a-howling with pleasure and astonishment. (22.14)

Alcoholism is a source of amusement for the townspeople. They fail to see the graver issues until Boggs is killed.

"Yes, a duke's different. But not very different. This one's a middling hard lot for a duke. When he's drunk there ain't no near-sighted man could tell him from a king." (23.26)

Although Huck recognizes that the duke has a greater sense of morality than the king, he believes that alcohol can corrupt anyone. Again, in this novel we see that alcohol is never ingested in moderation, and it’s considered to be a source of only bad things in this novel.

So me and the duke went up to the village, and hunted around there for the king, and by and by we found him in the back room of a little low doggery, very tight, and a lot of loafers bullyragging him for sport, and he a-cussing and a-threatening with all his might, and so tight he couldn't walk, and couldn't do nothing to them. The duke he begun to abuse him for an old fool, and the king begun to sass back, and the minute they was fairly at it I lit out and shook the reefs out of my hind legs, and spun down the river road like a deer, for I see our chance; and I made up my mind that it would be a long day before they ever see me and Jim again. (31.4)

Huck takes advantage of the king’s drinking to escape, just as he tried to escape his drunken father.

"Well," I says, "when I see the king in that doggery yesterday I says to myself, we can't get him home for hours, till he's soberer; so I went a-loafing around town to put in the time and wait. (31.34)

The duke recognizes the debilitating effects of alcohol on the king, but this doesn’t seem to stop him from drinking himself.

"Blamed if I know – that is, what's become of the raft. That old fool had made a trade and got forty dollars, and when we found him in the doggery the loafers had matched half-dollars with him and got every cent but what he'd spent for whisky; and when I got him home late last night and found the raft gone, we said, 'That little rascal has stole our raft and shook us, and run off down the river.'" (31.35)

The king makes alcohol his first priority when he acquires money, just as Huck’s father did.

And then Tom he talked along and talked along, and says, le's all three slide out of here one of these nights and get an outfit, and go for howling adventures amongst the Injuns, over in the Territory, for a couple of weeks or two; and I says, all right, that suits me, but I ain't got no money for to buy the outfit, and I reckon I couldn't get none from home, because it's likely pap's been back before now, and got it all away from Judge Thatcher and drunk it up. (43.4)

Huck defines his father exclusively in terms of his alcoholism. (You can read more on Pap in his "Character Analysis.")