Study Guide

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Foolishness and Folly

By Mark Twain

Foolishness and Folly

Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and, after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by and by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other n*****s. N*****s would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any n***** in that country. Strange n*****s would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. N*****s is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, "Hm! What you know 'bout witches?" and that n***** was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. N*****s would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn't touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches. (2.7)

The superstition of the black slaves appears foolish to Huck and Tom – yet they themselves express similar beliefs repeatedly throughout the novel.

Jim tried it again, and then another time, and it acted just the same. Jim got down on his knees, and put his ear against it and listened. But it warn't no use; he said it wouldn't talk. He said sometimes it wouldn't talk without money. (4.21)

Huck appears foolish in his inability to recognize that Jim uses the hairball to make money.

"No, don't you worry; these country jakes won't ever think of that. Besides, you know, you'll be in costume, and that makes all the difference in the world; Juliet's in a balcony, enjoying the moonlight before she goes to bed, and she's got on her night- gown and her ruffled nightcap. Here are the costumes for the parts." (20.23)

The duke fails to see the foolishness of his own actions, but he comments on the inferior intellect of the "country jakes."

And then he busted into tears, and so did everybody. Then somebody sings out, "Take up a collection for him, take up a collection!" Well, a half a dozen made a jump to do it, but somebody sings out, "Let HIM pass the hat around!" Then everybody said it, the preacher too. (20.35)

The religious crowd is presented as foolish when they are conned out of over $80.

Well, that night we had OUR show; but there warn't only about twelve people there – just enough to pay expenses. And they laughed all the time, and that made the duke mad; and everybody left, anyway, before the show was over, but one boy which was asleep. So the duke said these Arkansaw lunkheads couldn't come up to Shakespeare; what they wanted was low comedy – and maybe something ruther worse than low comedy, he reckoned. He said he could size their style. So next morning he got some big sheets of wrapping paper and some black paint, and drawed off some handbills, and stuck them up all over the village. (22.16)

The duke and king claim that the townspeople are too ignorant to understand Shakespeare, and yet they are made foolish by their inability to comprehend the Shakespearian quality of Sherburn’s speech. We give more insight into Sherburn in his "Character Analysis."

…and at last when he'd got everybody's expectations up high enough, he rolled up the curtain, and the next minute the king come a-prancing out on all fours, naked; and he was painted all over, ring- streaked-and-striped, all sorts of colors, as splendid as a rainbow. And – but never mind the rest of his outfit; it was just wild, but it was awful funny. The people most killed themselves laughing; and when the king got done capering and capered off behind the scenes, they roared and clapped and stormed and haw-hawed till he come back and done it over again, and after that they made him do it another time. Well, it would make a cow laugh to see the shines that old idiot cut. (23.1)

The duke and the king claim that the townspeople are stupid, but the king makes an utter fool of himself on stage. This is a prime example of the king’s inflated sense of self (besides the obvious fact that he calls himself "the king"). These actions show the king's inability to apply his judgmental eye to his own shortcomings.

" […] – they bein' partickler friends o' the diseased. That's why they're invited here this evenin'; but tomorrow we want ALL to come – everybody; for he respected everybody, he liked everybody, and so it's fitten that his funeral orgies sh'd be public."

And so he went a-mooning on and on, liking to hear himself talk, and every little while he fetched in his funeral orgies again, till the duke he couldn't stand it no more; so he writes on a little scrap of paper, "OBSEQUIES, you old fool," and folds it up, and goes to goo-gooing and reaching it over people's heads to him. The king he reads it and puts it in his pocket, and says: (25.41, 25. 42)

Despite the intelligence his scheming and plotting may suggest, the king is still foolish in many ways.

Well, how they all took on! They crowded around the doctor and tried to quiet him down, and tried to explain to him and tell him how Harvey 'd showed in forty ways that he WAS Harvey, and knowed everybody by name, and the names of the very dogs, and begged and BEGGED him not to hurt Harvey's feelings and the poor girl's feelings, and all that. But it warn't no use; he stormed right along, and said any man that pretended to be an Englishman and couldn't imitate the lingo no better than what he did was a fraud and a liar. The poor girls was hanging to the king and crying; and all of a sudden the doctor ups and turns on THEM. He says:

"I was your father's friend, and I'm your friend; and I warn you as afriend, and an honest one that wants to protect you and keep you out of harm and trouble, to turn your backs on that scoundrel and have nothing to do with him, the ignorant tramp, with his idiotic Greek and Hebrew, as he calls it. He is the thinnest kind of an impostor – has come here with a lot of empty names and facts which he picked up somewheres, and you take them for PROOFS, and are helped to fool yourselves by these foolish friends here, who ought to know better. Mary Jane Wilks, you know me for your friend, and for your unselfish friend, too. Now listen to me; turn this pitiful rascal out – I BEG you to do it. Will you?" (25.51, 25.52)

Twain uses one or two intelligent and perceptive characters throughout the story to emphasize the foolishness of everyone else, particularly that of the mob. Rules of logic, morality, and ethics are still in tact... it’s just that not everyone sees things rationally or morally.

"Cuss the doctor! What do we k'yer for HIM? Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?" (26.92)

The king wisely remarks that, in fact, most people are foolish.

"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)

Although the king repeatedly refers to the foolishness of the townspeople, he makes unwise decisions at several points in the novel.

"For the land's sake, what IS the matter with the child? He's got the brain-fever as shore as you're born, and they're oozing out!" (40.23)

Aunt Sally is consistently portrayed as a foolish character. Read up on her more in her "Character Analysis."