The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 32 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.

In Chapter 32 of ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,' Huck arrives at the Phelps's property. He discovers that Mrs. Phelps has mistaken him for her nephew Tom.

Mistaken Identity

The sun is shining as Huck arrives at the Phelps farm. Except for the buzzing of insects, it is so quiet that Huck feels unnerved and lonely--as if he were surrounded by ghosts whose voices he thinks he hears in the sound of the wind. For a second, Huck wishes he were dead, just as the ghosts are.

Looking around, he notices that the Phelps's place is just like so many other small plantations he has seen: fenced-in acreage where dirt borders clumps of dying grass and where a 'big double log-house for the white folks' sits, surrounded by small log sheds for the slaves. On the ground, dogs lie sprawled out, sleeping in the sunshine.

As Huck makes his way toward the kitchen door, he hears the faint sound of a spinning wheel and he again wants to be dead because, as he says, it is 'the lonesomest sound in the whole world.' Moments later, though, the dogs are on their feet, surrounding him, baying and barking. Hearing the commotion, an African-American woman comes running from 'the kitchen with a rolling pin in her hand,' frantically trying to shush the noisy dogs. Suddenly the dogs stop barking and approach Huck, trying to make friends with him.

Now three small African-American children come out to peer at him. They are almost naked and wrap themselves in the woman's dress, trying to hide. Just then a white woman and her children also appear. The woman, who is about fifty, is grinning at Huck. 'It's YOU at last--AIN'T it?' she says, before grabbing him, holding him in her arms, and crying. Through her tears, she tells him that he does not resemble his mother but that it does not matter to her because she is so happy. Then she says to her little ones, 'Children, it's your cousin Tom--tell him howdy.'

Steering Huck into the house, the woman tells him to call her 'Aunt Sally' and explains that she expected his boat to arrive two days before. Not knowing where the boat she is referring to would have been coming from, he tries to think of something to say that will sound reasonable. 'We blowed out a cylinder-head,' he finally tells her. When she asks if anyone was injured, he says no, but adds that an African-American was killed. 'Well it's lucky,' the woman responds, 'because sometimes people do get hurt.'

As she is speaking, Huck keeps wishing he could speak to the woman's children and find out who Tom is so he can do a better job of pretending. Unable to speak to the children about Tom, though, Huck trusts that 'Providence' will help him with his pretense.

A Trick

Before long the woman hears her husband--who has gone to town again to check on Tom's boat--returning home. She grabs Huck, telling him to hide by the bed and telling the children not to say anything, because she wants to trick her husband. When he comes in, her husband, Silas Phelps, is very worried, certain that something terrible has happened to the boat. His wife interrupts him, telling him to look out the window at someone approaching the house. As he looked away, the woman drags Huck out, and when her husband asks who the boy is, she says, 'It's TOM SAWYER!'

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