Summary and Analysis
Tom discovers that Jim is being held in a small farm cabin, and the two boys discuss plans to free Jim from captivity. Huck's logical plan is to steal the keys from Uncle Silas, quickly unlock Jim, and immediately leave on the raft. Tom argues that the plan is too simple and as "mild as goosemilk." After they examine the cabin where Jim is being held, Huck suggests that they tear off one board for Jim to escape. Tom again argues that the plan is not complicated enough and then decides that they should dig Jim out because doing so will take a couple of weeks. When a slave brings food to Jim, the boys go along and whisper to Jim that they are going to set him free.
Tom and Huck begin making plans for an elaborate escape, and each step becomes more complicated and time-consuming. Tom argues that Jim will need a rope ladder and other items such as case-knives and a journal, because the escape must be done just like the prison novels he has read.
The opportunity to burlesque Tom's romanticism and infuse humor back into the novel comes at the price of Jim's perceived freedom. In actuality, Jim has already been set free by the late Miss Watson's will, and readers will learn this startling fact at the end of the novel. However, because both Huck and Jim are unaware of Jim's freedom, they agree to follow Tom's extravagant plans for a dramatic escape.
The elaborate escape plan provides Tom the opportunity to call upon several of the prison stories and adventure novels he has read. By combining unnecessary tactics such as a tunnel and devices such as a rope ladder, the entire plan becomes a comical romantic farce. The incongruity of Huck's logic in the face of Tom's imagination creates several humorous exchanges, and the farce is reminiscent of Twain's earlier work with Tom Sawyer. For example, when Tom says that Jim needs to keep a journal, Huck replies, "Journal your granny — Jim can't write."
Huck's practical response is both humorous and revealing at the same time. On the surface, it is obvious that Jim does not need to keep a journal, but the fact that Jim is captive during this time is an overriding shadow on the slapstick humor. The ability to read and write was not common among anyone in the mid-1800s, and because Jim is a slave, his being able to write is much more unlikely. More important, however, is the realization that Huck cannot stop the nonsensical plans because he and Jim are trapped within the confines of a racist society.
Neither Huck nor Jim is able to dissuade or alter Tom's plans except in minor ways, and their failed attempts symbolize their ill-fated efforts to truly escape civilization's conventions. The biting satire is obvious when Huck wonders about the logic of digging a tunnel with ordinary case-knives. When he questions Tom, Tom replies that "It don't make no difference how foolish it is, it's the right way . . . . And there ain't no other way, that ever I heard of, and I've read all the books that gives any information about these things." As a representative of proper society, Tom summarizes civilization's reliance on tradition and existing laws that have been recorded, despite their lack of humanity and compassion.
fox-fire the luminescence of decaying wood and plant remains, caused by various fungi.
seneskal seneschal, a steward or major-domo in the household of a medieval noble.
Langudoc Languedoc, historical region of southern France.
Navarre historical region and former kingdom in northeast Spain and southwest France.