The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 17 Summary

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

Chapter 17 of ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'' reveals how Huck takes on a new identity while staying with the Grangerfords, a wealthy family he encounters when he goes ashore. The Grangerford family has a large, gaudy home that prominently displays morbid pictures by their dead family member Emmeline.

Huck's New Identity

After making his way to shore, Huck is dripping wet and tries to calm the dogs barking at him as he walks up to a large house. From inside, a man calls out, 'Who's there?' Huck lies, 'George Jackson, sir.' When the man wants to know why he is there, sneaking around in the dark, Huck explains that he has fallen off a riverboat and that he just wants to be on his way, but the dogs are stopping him. The man now wants to know if the boy is alone and if he has anything to do with the Shepherdsons. Having no idea who the Shepherdsons are, Huck responds that he does not. The man tells him to approach.

Slowly, so as not to alarm the dogs, Huck inches toward the door. He hears the sound of many locks being unfastened and bolts being pulled back, and then, peering inside the cracked-open door, he sees men with guns and one pleasant-looking elderly woman. Taking a good look at him, the oldest man says Huck can come in.

The Grangerford Family

As soon as Huck walks in, the old man refastens the lock and rebolts the door. Holding a candle close to Huck, the old man says, 'Why, he ain't a Shepherdson--no, there ain't any Shepherdson about him.'

Everyone begins to relax. The old woman says that the sopping-wet boy must be hungry and ready for a change of clothes. Huck goes upstairs with a boy named Buck so Huck can put on one of Buck's shirts and a pair of his britches.

Afterwards, Huck sits with his hosts, the Grangerfords, who are chatting and smoking. All of them have questions about 'George Jackson's' life. Huck tells them that he had brothers and a sister, but they all either died or ran away, leaving him alone with his father. After his father also died, 'George' decided to leave too, taking the riverboat until he fell in the river. Unaware that Huck is lying to them, the family invites him to stay and they all go to bed.

The House and Dead Emmeline

The next day, Huck explores the house. He notices how well-maintained the bricks of the fireplace appear, and he admires an ornate clock in the middle of the mantel bordered by two garishly painted parrots. On the walls, he finds many pictures, including artwork by Emmeline, who, Huck learns, is a deceased Grangerford. Her drawings are unusually somber, and Huck carefully studies one of a young widow before gazing at an even more unusual creation by Emmeline:

'Another picture was a young lady with her hair all combed up straight to the top of her head, and knotted there in front of a comb like a chair-back, and she was crying into a handkerchief and had a dead bird laying on its back in her other hand with its heels up, and underneath the picture it said 'I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More, Alas.''

Huck thinks that 'with her disposition' Emmeline is surely 'having a better time in the graveyard' than she would alive. Emmeline had been working on what was thought to be her best piece when she became ill:

'It was a picture of a young woman in a long white gown, standing on the rail of a bridge all ready to jump off, with her hair all down her back, and looking up to the moon, with the tears running down her face, and she had two arms folded across her breast, and two arms stretched out in front, and two more reaching up towards the moon--and the idea was to see which pair would look best, and then scratch out all the other arms.'

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