The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 1 Summary

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Mark Twain's classic novel brings us one of the most memorable literary characters of all time: the wild, brutally honest, intelligent, yet untaught and gullible Huck Finn. This lesson will focus on chapter 1 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

In the Beginning

Huckleberry Finn starts off his story by telling us that we may know him from a story by Mark Twain called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. That story, he tells us, is mostly true but there are some lies. He then launches into a digression about lying. This serves two purposes--to introduce us to some of the more honest characters, and to warn us that he himself is a bit of a liar.

He then gives us a very basic summary of that book. He and Tom Sawyer found treasure in a cave, ending up with just about $6,000 each. That was a lot of money in the 1800s, and it's so much that Huck, who grew up in vile poverty with his abusive alcoholic Pa, doesn't know what to do with it. So he turns it over to Judge Thatcher for safekeeping.

Since the conclusion of Tom's story, Huck has been living with the Widow Douglas, who treats Huck as a son, but often tries to change his wild ways. At one point, Huck tells us, he couldn't stand it and put on his old ratty clothes and ran away. But Tom found Huck and told him that he could join his band of robbers if he returned to the Widow's house, so Huck did.

Life With the Widow Douglas

Chapter 1 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens after Huck has moved back in with the Widow Douglas. Huck tells us how, when he returned to the Widow's house, she cried and hugged him but immediately began to try to civilize him again. She also teaches him about religion. He dislikes when the Widow 'grumbles' over her food when praying, but likes learning about Moses until he realizes Moses has been dead for ages.

Huck's picked up some pretty bad habits during his thirteen or fourteen years of life, which the Widow keeps trying to break. One evening, Huck asks the Widow if he can smoke a pipe, and she's horrified. She calls it a mean, dirty habit, and Huck points out that she uses snuff.

Huck is bored and fidgety. The Widow reprimands him again and again, and finally tells him that he's going to hell if he can't behave. She tells him all about hell, and he replies that he'd like to go there. The Widow about loses it, but Huck is confused because he didn't 'mean no harm'. She tells him that he should strive to go to the good place, or heaven, but Huck resolves not even to try.

He doesn't mention this to the Widow. Seems he's learning something after all. Instead, he asks if Tom Sawyer will go to heaven. She said 'not by a considerable sight', and Huck is happy because he and Tom can be together in the place that seems like more fun to him.

Mickey Rooney as Huckleberry Finn in a 1939 Film Adaptation
Mickey Rooney as Huckleberry Finn in a 1939 film adaptation

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