Summary and Analysis
Jim and Huck continue down the river between the Missouri mountains and the "heavy timber" of Illinois, hiding the raft during the day and running several hours at night. The fifth night after they pass St. Louis, they come upon a steamboat crippled on a rock. Although Jim does not want to board the wreck and argues that they should ignore it, Huck convinces him that they need to explore.
On board, they overhear voices and see that two men have tied up a third and are discussing his fate. Certain that the wreck will come loose and sink, the two men decide to leave the tied man to a watery death. When Jim tries to untie the men's skiff and trap them on the wreck, he discovers the raft has broken loose and floated away. While the men are inside the cabin, Huck and Jim take the skiff and leave the wreck. Eventually they find the raft and pull the skiff and the men's supplies up on the deck.
When they come upon a village, Huck finds a ferryboat watchman and begins another elaborate story. He tells him that his family is up on the steamboat wreck, which readers learn is named the Walter Scott. The man hurries off to sound the alarm with visions of a reward in front of him.
Later that evening, Huck sees the wreck, which has come loose from the rocks and is quietly sinking as it drifts down the river.
Twain's decision to name the boat the Walter Scott continues his mockery of romantic novels and their authors. The wreck's importance to the novel, however, is found in the contrasting images of peace and brutality and Huck's inevitable deliberations on death.
Chapter 12 signals a separation from Huck and Jim's familiar surroundings as the two begin their journey down the Mississippi. The peaceful images of the river are similar to those that readers have seen in the many film adaptations of Huck Finn: Huck and Jim on a large and comfortable raft, free from outside interference and enjoying the serenity of their new life. Although the river is seen as a safe haven for Huck and Jim, the viciousness of the shore arrives in the form of the Walter Scott wreck. In this manner, Twain is able to interrupt the peaceful environment of the river by combining it with the brutality of men. The pattern is one that will recur when the duke and the king board the raft in Chapter 19.
Despite their savageness and unfeeling attitude, Huck cannot help but "worry about the men" as he leaves them to die. Huck's compassion is evident, and he does attempt to save the men by alerting the ferryboat watchman. The "Angel of Death," however, claims more victims as the Walter Scott breaks apart and sinks.
tow-head sandbar with thick reeds.
harrow-teeth wood or metal spikes used to plow land.
mushmelon a cantaloupe or other moderate sized melon.
jackstaff an iron rod or wooden bar on a ship to which the sails are fastened.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) Scottish poet and novelist, author of Ivanhoe.