Summary and Analysis
With the temperature rising and the landscape scattered with Spanish moss, Huck realizes that they are a long way from home. The new schemes of the duke and the king barely bring in enough money for liquor, so the two men begin to plot and whisper about their next scam. Huck and Jim are concerned about the clandestine behavior of the con men, and when Huck finally sees a chance to escape, he discovers that the duke and the king have made a fake handbill and turned in Jim for a $40 reward.
Huck is furious with the con men because "after all we'd done for them scoundrels . . . they could have the heart to serve Jim and make him a slave again all his life." As Huck ponders his choices, his conscience begins to trouble him again. He cannot help but feel guilty for assisting Jim, despite the fact that his instincts constantly force him into that role. After trying to pray for resolution, Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson detailing where Jim is and signs it "Huck Finn." After he finishes the letter, he feels momentary relief and is confident that he has saved himself from going to hell for helping a slave.
Instead of being satisfied with his decision, however, Huck begins to replay their trip down the river. He reminisces about the two of them "a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing" and cannot force himself to see Jim as someone disgraceful. Huck trembles as he again picks up Miss Watson's letter and realizes that the struggle must stop: He must decide forever between two things: heaven and hell. He pauses for a minute, then declares "All right, then, I'll go to hell" and tears the letter to pieces. Once Huck makes his decision to betray society for Jim, he immediately plots to steal Jim back out of slavery.
If Chapter 18 is the end of the first segment of the novel, Chapter 31 is the end of the second segment and one of the most important chapters in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Up until this point, the novel has wavered back and forth between the river and the shore, with humorous and cruel events constantly bombarding the reader. The conflicts of individual versus society, freedom versus civilization, and sentimentalism versus realism, as well as Huck's struggle between right and wrong, are all revealed in Huck and Jim's journey. And all come to a head in Huck's eventual decision. In the midst of these events rests Huck's inner struggle to ignore his conscience and transcend his environment.
The catalyst for Huck's action is the sale of Jim back into slavery. Ironically, Huck believes he will be shunned by his community and doom himself to literal hell if he aids Jim. Despite this realization, Huck's proclamation "All right, then, I'll go to hell," ends his struggle in a concise and powerful moment, which is the climax of the novel.
In light of his climatic decision, Huck's entire narrative symbolizes a search for his own conscience and identity, and this identity is shaped by his attempt to make moral evaluations despite the pressures of surrounding theological and societal codes. That Huck has not been able to reconcile his struggle should not come as a surprise to readers, for Huck's sacrifice is lost on the racist society that pervaded nineteenth-century America. The statement becomes even more powerful when readers realize that Huck's decision to recognize Jim's humanity is not shared by the rest of society.
Above all, it is important to note that Huck's declaration, despite the surrounding satire and bitter irony, elevates him to a heroic character. Twain, however, cannot help but infuse more subtle irony even after Huck's decision, and Huck's reasoning that "as long as I was in [hell], and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog" notifies readers that the novel will take yet another turn in its last segment.
Spanish Moss a plant often found growing in long, graceful strands from the branches of trees in the south eastern U.S.
doggery a saloon.