Chapter 34-42: The Phelpes’ farm

Critics have complained that the rescue at Phelps’ farm is rife with coincidence and is overall problematic to the rest of the work. What do you see as the problems this section presents to readers? Does this section change your view of the main characters’ moral development? If so, how? How has Tom Sawyer’s insistence on “regulations” for escape forced him into the role of coloniser, Huck into the role of agent of the coloniser, and Jim into the role of the colonised/oppressed?

Mrs S Dutson


  1. I believe that the moral development and overall role that Huckleberry Finn, Jim and Tom Sawyer play in these chapters has changed the overall feel for the book. When Tom comes onto the farm in chapter 33, we can see that he isn’t fully phased by seeing Huck alive and agrees to help him with little convincing. In chapter 34, when making the plan to free Jim from the shed, Tom disagrees with Huck’s idea and claims it isn’t as stylish as his plan but was overall much safer. The fact that Huck lets Tom change plans could show desperation in Huck in trying to get out of the farm and back into their normal everyday life. Tom also complicates the escape alot in chapter 35 as he lists out everything ‘necessary’ for an escape even though it wasnt needed as it was overall very easy to free Jim from the shed. Tom lists out things such as a rope ladder, a moat, and a shirt on which Jim can keep a journal but insists it should be written in Jims blood. I think that Twain has introduced Tom into the final chapters to help complicate the escape into freedom and can be seen as one of the last ‘obsticles’ into becoming a free man.

    • A really good point – if we see Tom as the last obstacle to Jim becoming a free man, what does Tom represent? What is Twain saying about the hierarchies in Southern society?

  2. The arrival at the farm could be seen as coincidental and implausible in a Realist novel, but Tom is a useful character because most readers would already be familiar with him (from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the start of the novel). Therefore, in the last part of the novel, no introduction of key characters is needed which allows him to take control and dictate the rest of the story. The last chapters at the Phelps’ farm return the novel to an adventure story, designed for children. The problematic part of this is the reintroduction of Tom Sawyer, because he causes the prevention of Huck’s moral development. When Huck was on the raft with Jim, the lessons he learnt were vital to his maturity and the true nature of Southern Society. Tom means that this is halted because Huck takes a follower position, subordinate to Tom, like at the start of the book. His intricate and absurd plan causes Huck to forget the true meaning of coming to the farm: to rescue Jim. Jim becomes an object in their entertainment, particularly with the cruel introduction of rats and snakes, despite Jim saying that “I doan’ want no sich doin’s”.
    The callous nature of the plan is heightened when it is revealed that Jim is “as free as any cretur that walks this earth”. The fact that Jim had to endure the time being locked up for no reason is very distressing because of the kindness of Jim – he even gives up his freedom to help Tom when he is shot. Tom treats Jim like an object and a slave and is just as bad as the previous owners he had. However, when Tom reveals the truth, he is not punished. This could link to the idea of Tom being the coloniser, Huck being the agent and Jim being the colonised. Tom plays with Jim with no consequence, and Huck blindly plays along. This is what is so troubling about the final chapters, as it seems all of Huck’s development has been lost and wasted, reverting back to life in St Petersburg. As well as this, all the effort that Huck put into trying to save Jim is wasted when they discover he has been free for quite a significant part of the story. Twain may have done this to highlight that despite being free, black citizens were still subjected to the racist views of white people, just as Jim is treated like a slave and subjected to endless manipulation and violence. As he wrote this after the Civil War, Jim’s freedom could symbolise this idea that the freedom earned by the soldiers was distorted by the continuous racist attitudes of the rest of the country.

  3. Yes, if we look at the Black Lives Matter movement in American today we can see that the fight for racial equality continues.

  4. Also interesting to look at Basset’s interpretation of the two boys – ‘Tom is presented as a foil to Huck, he is a bookish, conventional romantic unlike the pragmatic realistic Huck’

  5. I agree with critics complaining that this section is rife with coincidence, given the apparent off-chance that they wind up at the Phelpses who randomly happen to be relatives of Tom Sawyer. However, after doing some research, it can be found that Twain originally intended for Tom to be a main character of the novel, therefore it is not a major surprise that he reenters at the culmination of the novel. Evidence of this is that the first edition of the satirical novel was Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade).

    Moreover, I do think to an extent that this section changes my view of Huck’s moral development, as the novel somewhat reverts to a more tame story rather than focusing on his developing ‘deformed’ moral conscience and how he compares himself to ‘sivilised’ society. Perhaps this dramatic tonal shift is due to this book being written in three parts, possibly showing Twain’s indifference with the books primary theme.

    Tom Sawyer’s insistence on regulations and following along romantic literary guidelines comes at the price of Jim’s freedom, as a result forcing him into the role of coloniser and Huck as an agent. The contrast between both characters is highlighted here as Huck’s logic goes against Tom’s romanticism and imagination, with the latter’s plans ultimately winning out. This is perhaps as a consequence of Huck’s idolisation of Tom and arguable desire to be more like him. However, Huck does once more question the plan’s logic of digging a tunnel with knives, where Tom responds that it is ‘the right way,’ as this is what they do in his books. Twain is using Tom to represent civilisation’s fierce reliance on tradition and legislation even though it is completely illogical. As well as how he is risking Jim’s life, the person who they’re supposed to be saving, and therefore epitomising society downfall: lack of humanity and empathy.

  6. I think that the novel is certainly called ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ for a reason. Because Huck is a child, and Twain is constantly reminding us of this. The ending episode of the novel in which Huck and Tom break Jim out is one of these adventures. Of course, this can be seen as problematic because Huck and arguably more prominently Tom are playing a game with essentially Jim’s life, due to the mere fact that he is black. Yet, in argument to these opinions, it cannot be forgotten that they are children who are conditioned to behave a certain way. This is certainly more prominent for Tom Sawyer, seeing as he has not seen the raft unlike Huck. We do get the sense that Huck doesn’t wholly agree with Tom’s theatre of an escape plan.

    Yet, there is most certainly this metaphor Twain is more than hinting at. Of Tom being this coloniser, Huck his right hand man and Jim the oppressed. It’s interesting how Tom has learnt all he knows from various books and historic tales. In a way, it shows how by giving an innocent child this material, this behaviour is birthed. I think that education can be seen as a minor theme running through the novel. How ignorance shouldn’t necessarily be outright punished as we see with Huck’s initial treatment, and conditioning not only by the people we are surrounded by, but what we consume. This is what makes the novel, at least in my opinion so timeless.

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