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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 22 Summary

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

In a small Arkansas town, Huck witnesses a failed lynch mob and attends a circus. In this summary, we will focus on chapter 22 of Mark Twain's ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.''

Background Information

In the previous chapter, Huck, the Duke, and the Dauphin visit a small town in Arkansas. After the men make preparations for their Shakespeare performance, they wander around. In the course of exploring the town, they witness the drunken Boggs antagonize Colonel Sherburn. Despite warnings, Boggs continued to taunt Sherburn. This taunting resulted in Sherburn shooting and killing Boggs. At the beginning of chapter 19 in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the townspeople have formed a lynch mob and are marching towards Sherburn's home.

Colonel Sherburn Speaks

The mob carries on to the point that 'everything had to clear the way or get run over and tromped to mush.' Upon arriving at Sherburn's home, they tear down the fence and swarm into the yard. Sherburn steps onto the roof of his front porch, silently looking down at the crowd while holding a double-barrel gun. The crowd quiets as he stares at them. Nobody meets his eye for long.

After a few moments, Sherburn begins to laugh haughtily. He exclaims he finds it amusing that the people in the crowd believe themselves brave enough to lynch a man. Although he seems to be speaking directly to the mob, Sherburn delivers a speech that encompasses all mankind.

Though raised in the south, he also lived in the north, which he believes qualifies him to speak accurately about all men. The 'average man is a coward.' He points out that he knows they will not lynch him because it is daylight. To prove his point, he uses the example of a murderer being acquitted because the jury is afraid that man's friends would show up and shoot them in the back. After acquitting, he says a man with 'a hundred masked cowards at his back' will then go shoot the murderer during the night. He observes this crowd did not bring a man, nor did they come at night with their masks. After delivering his speech, Sherburn tells the mob to go home while brandishing his gun.

Huck Attends the Circus

The crowd disperses after Sherburn's speech, and Huck leaves along with them. Making his way over to the circus, Huck waits for his chance to sneak into the tent. Although he has money, he figures it would be better to save his money in case of future emergencies. He claims it 'was a real bully circus,' with beautiful women gracefully riding horses around the ring.

Throughout the circus, Huck watches as the performers 'done the most astonishing things,' and is quite taken by the antics of the clown. No matter who is performing, the clown 'carried on so it most killed the people.' Huck marvels at the clown's ability to think of a joke or funny response quickly, saying he would not be able to come up with material if he had an entire year.

After several performances, a drunk man makes his way to the ring, insisting he wants to ride. At first, the performers try to get rid of him, but he argues back and the show stops. When the audience begins to yell and make fun of him, the drunk gets angry. The people respond by starting to get up and shout for him to be knocked down and thrown out, until the ringmaster interrupts. If the drunk man will stop causing trouble, and if he thinks he can do it, then he will be allowed to ride.

At first, it is all the man can do to stay on the horse. Even with circus attendants holding on, the man barely hangs on with 'his heels flying in the air every jump.' Eventually, the circus men lose their grip and the horse goes flying around the ring while the drunk man flops around on his back. Although the audience laughs loudly, Huck does not find the spectacle funny. Instead, Huck is concerned for the man's safety, and is 'all of a tremble to see his danger.'

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