Chapters 19-31: The Duke & the King

The Duke and the King invade the peace that Huck and Jim are enjoying on the raft after the tragic episode with the Shepertons and the Grangerfords.

Twain presents us with these two con men to satirise Southern society. They are both comic and cruel. To what extent is Twain using them as a contrast to Huck and Jim? Try to evidence your discussion points with quotes from the text and critical interpretations.

Mrs S Dutson


  1. Differences between Duke and King and Huck and Jim:
    • Jim truly cares about Huck – unlike the Duke and King. “Jim didn’t call me when it was my turn”. He takes care of Huck like a father does, whereas the Duke and King only use Huck to benefit the schemes
    • Jim is reflective and moral, and even shows Huck the possibility of black people being able to feel empathy and be kind – “it don’t seem natural”. He mourns for his children and what he has done to them. The Duke and King are unscrupulous and have no remorse for their victims, only how they can further their own greed
    • John Green: “Jim’s humanity forces Huck to contend with him as a person” – Huck’s only chance of escaping his indoctrination is confront his racism by living with Jim and seeing the true scope of his emotions.
    • Even Huck feels some remorse for the Duke and King when they are tarred and feathered: “It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another”. This reminds us of Huck’s deformed conscience but a sound heart. He does not need to feel any pity for these men, who have conned so many people, but he cannot bring himself to be critical of them

    • Good use of the John Green interpretation here, Olivia. I agree, Twain shows us Jim’s humanity through his love for his family and the care he takes of Huck. However, Toni Morrison claims that, ‘Every reader knows that Jim will be dismissed without explanation at some point; that no enduring adult fraternity will emerge. Anticipating this loss may have led Twain to the over-the-top minstelization of Jim.’ In what ways could we agree that Jim is presented as a stereotype and an ‘over the top’ character?

      • In the first part of the novel, Jim is portrayed as rather unintelligent and foolish (e.g Tom and Huck easily play tricks on him, or his extreme superstition). The fact that Jim is repeatedly fooled by simple tricks by Huck adds to the sense that Jim is truly a fool. Slaves were often regarded as simple, childish and unaware of their true situation, content to be living in slavery. This idea could be attributed to Jim because even though he is on the run from slavery, he does not seem traumatised. Jim is also quite passive in the novel, which may explain Morrison’s point of Jim being “dismissed without explanation”. However, Jim may be a caricature, but it is important to remember the context: Jim is always in a tenuous position, and anyone can easily betray him (like the Duke and the King). Arguably, Jim is aware of his situation, and knows that he has to remain passive.

        • Agreed, we must remember that although they are both fugitives, Huck and Jim are not equal. I find such a sadness in the way Jim is treated by others in the novel.

  2. Even though the Duke and the King commit some atrocious acts in the name of greed, the response and reactions from the society is interesting.
    • The audience at the camp meeting believe the King’s absurd story of being a pirate, but all of them believe him – “and then he bursted into tears, and so did everybody”. He makes eighty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents.
    • The mob crowd are also portrayed as foolish, as they swing from chastising Boggs to wanting to lynch Sherburn. “Someone said Sherburn ought to be lynched. In about a minute everyone was saying it”
    • Boggs seems to be a harmless entertaining but annoying drunk, and the crowd laugh and joke at his expense. Sherburn’s murder of him is unjustified and he seems extremely cruel and immoral
    • However, Sherburn’s speech on the hypocrisy of society – “Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the dark – and it’s just what they would do” – is eloquent. But it is very contradictory, as he has just shot Boggs. This confusion in society allows the reader to understand the crazy life Huck has and the constant uncertainty he has to face.
    • The audience at the Royal Nonesuch don’t want to punish the Duke and the King for the poor show, but would rather implicate the rest of their town to hide their stupidity
    • The townspeople and the nieces continue to allow Twain to satrise society. Their gullibility is infuriating for the readers and Huck. He calls them “a passel of sapheads”
    • Huck only begins to be opposed to their actions when Mary-Jane and her sisters are directly implicated. Seeing their humanity and their kindness is what motivates Huck to steal the money – “this is a girl that I’m letting that old reptile rob of her money!”
    • “The appalling power of the King and Duke over the little riverside townships, for example, lies in their ability to exploit the fatal human preference to be gulled by words” – Richard Maxwell

  3. Introduced in chapter 19 and invade Huck and Jim’s raft after the events of the Grangerford’s.
    • Conmen who act out of self-interest and are greedy, vindictive and cruel
    • Similar to Huck and Jim: both individuals running from somewhere that decide to team up, and are both devices that Twain can use to explore Southern Society and hypocrisy
    • The opposite: Huck and Jim team up for friendship and to protect each other, unlike the Duke and King, who team up to benefit from those around them
    • Even though the schemes of the Duke and the King are entertaining and farcical, they have no respect for human life or dignity (proven when they sell Jim – “for forty dirty dollars”)

  4. They are a contrast from Huck and Jim, because unlike Huck and Jim, they seem to have seen American society as a whole on their travels, whereas Huck and Jim have only known St Petersburg before they left. However, Twain definitely isn’t inviting us to think that the Duke and the King are cultured in the slightest: we are made to think the opposite through Twain’s fantastic satire throughout these episodes. The most significant example of this in my eyes is the rehearsal and performance of Shakespeare. This, along with their royal identities, is mere imported aristocracy to the extent where it is almost comical due to their obvious limited knowledge of the literature they are performing. In the passage ‘to be or not to be; that is the bare bodkin…but get thee to a nunnery – go!’ they are clearly performing a distorted version of Hamlet with other plays such as Macbeth and Richard III mixed in. Jim and Huck contrast this clear imitation of high-class behaviour. One example of this during these episodes is when Huck puts the $6000 gold into Wilke’s coffin instead of keeping it for himself. Although Huck does indeed practice fraudulent behaviour, such as when he pretends to be from Sheffield and knowing nothing of the place when talking to Mary Jane, however this is to no monetary, tangible gain. It is like Coveney states ‘Man in society corrupted by money-lust and repressive morality.’ Yet, Huck evidently is not captured by this greed that seems to infect the Duke and the King. He is practicing this fraudulent behaviour to help Jim.

    • Yes, good point, the Duke and the King are presented as being more ‘worldly’ than Huck and Jim, but they are completely corrupt, We would expect Shakespeare to signify intelligence, but the King and the Duke manipulate and misunderstand it for negative gains. How would you link this with Gatsby and the presentation of corruption and morality?

      • You could certainly link it with the idea of the corruption of new money in Gatsby. The way that Gatsby had a dream which was so pure in birth, to win over a girl, and how that became twisted into an illegal acquisition of supercilious wealth by bootlegging. Also, how when Gatsby finally rekindles his relationship with Daisy, it is still not enough to him because he is still not the only one who belongs to Daisy’s heart. It shows how morals become twisted by this corruption, and the human nature of such a simple dream never being enough, one of the fundamental flaws of the American Dream as a concept.

  5. The differences between Huck and Jim to the Duke and King are:
    • Morals: Although both Huck and Jim are considered fugitives who have lied to get away from their awful past, they obtain a moral compass that the Duke and King do not appear to possess. When the Duke and King con people they do not show any remote piece of emotion or guilt; their only agenda is to advantage themselves and do not care for the damage they leave in their path. In contrast to this Huck sympathises with the Duke and King as his moral instincts overlook the fact, they betrayed him and treated him poorly, and instead tries to be compassionate.
    • Relationship: The relationship between the two pairs contrast hugely as in one circumstance of Huck and Jim the relationship is pure and in the other is appears as shallow and fickle. Despite Huck’s doubts about saving Jim, he cares for him deeply and views him as a father figure and a person of refuge. Whilst on the boat Jim looks after Huck and treats him very differently to the way the Duke and King do.
    • What they symbolise: Huck and Jim symbolise the freedom from society because Jim is escaping the restraints of slavery alongside Huck who is escaping the limitations of society. The Duke and King symbolise the stark contrast of the river to the shore as they invade the freedom of the raft and almost instantly change the dynamics. They represent society as it acts in the same way of restricting freedom and free-will.

    • I also think it’s important to note that as a result of losing all their money, the Duke and King begin to exert a bitterness and become spiteful towards one another, this is extremely ironic as it highlights the apparent lack of nobility that as a ‘Duke’ and ‘King’ they should have been brought up on, proving Jim and Huck’s distrust in them to be correct. Also to further Miss Dutson’s point about Huck’s morals surrounding the Duke and King, it becomes clear that Huck is sympathetic towards them just because they are human beings, the York Notes says Huck, ‘is a boy whose conscience plays a great part in his behaviour’ it exposes Huck’s sensitivity to others being mistreated despite the wrongness of their ways. As a child, we would expect Huck to be more forgiving, after all, in the Antebellum South it was heavily frowned upon for a Caucasian person to have relations with black person let alone a slave for that matter, however Huck tries to see the best in people. It seems at times that Huck has a warped sense of punishment in the sense that during Tom Sawyers pact he was happy enough to murder someone, yet seeing the frauds get ‘tarred and feathered’ is pushing his moral boundaries. This idea contrasts with the Duke and King as they would happily sell Jim and not care about their consequences, there is clearly no moral judgement they fear which is where the deviate from the more sympathetic Huck and Jim.

  6. I was listening to a TED talk from Dr. Susan David this week:
    One of the ideas she discussed really brought Huck to mind for me:
    “There’s this beautiful … Victor Frankl quote. This idea between stimulus and a response – there is a space. And in that space is our power to choose. It’s in that choice that lies our growth and freedom.”
    The Duke and the King illustrate what Huck could become, should he fail to listen to his conscience. Huck repeatedly shows that he wishes no harm to others. He doesn’t want the Widow Douglas to be upset; he can’t bring himself to turn Jim in (‘…I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on, – s’pose you’d done a right and give Jim up; would you feel better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad – I’d feel just the same way I do now.); and he attempts to save the lives of the steamboat robbers.
    At one point even the duke falters, ‘The duke he grumbled; said the bag of gold was enough, and he didn’t want to go no deeper – didn’t want to rob a lot of orphans of everything they had.’ but the king ‘talked him blind’.
    Huck does undeniably find the adventures that travelling with the duke and king affords seductive – they are like a real life version of the make-believe games he used to play with Tom and the gang – but they cross a line to a place where Huck isn’t prepared to follow them.

    • Agreed, they are almost a warped version of Tom & Huck, a dark vision of what they could be with their scams and pranks. Perhaps, like you suggest, he finds the adventure seductive and this is why he doesn’t expel them from the raft. Although we question his ability to do this in his precarious position.
      Twain shows us Huck has a stronger, if not naive, moral sense, when later in the novel he feels sympathy for them when they are tarred and fathered by the townspeople – ‘I was sorry for them pitiful rascals’. Huck claims, ‘Human begins can be awful cruel to one another.’ I find this such a poignant quote!

  7. Huck may have a fairly warped sense of morality, but there is no doubt that he does have morals and feels empathy and shame. The Duke and the King on the other hand have no morals whatsoever as they prove repeatedly throughout the chapters in which they appear. Perhaps the clearest contrast between these two dastardly men and Huck is also the most callous act they commit: the fraud of three newly orphaned young girls. In chapter 25 the two men infiltrate the home of three grieving girls and claim to be their English relatives, recently arrived for the will reading, and attempt to swindle the grieving girls out of their father’s fortune. The Duke and the King have no qualms over this highly immoral act and once they had taken the liquid wealth in to their possession the two men seek to sell all of the inherited land too. Huck cannot stand the idea of ‘letting that old rebtle rob her of her money’ and as each sister walks in to the room he feels more guilty until he decides that he must attempt to rescue the money from the clutches of the two men. Here Huck shows he has morals but they are warped. He thinks through all of his options asking himself if he should ‘go to that doctor, private, and blow these frauds’ or ‘go, private, and tell Mary Jane’ but in the end Huck decides the best thing is to steal the money, run away and send a letter explaining where the money is. Huck does not want to be caught by the Duke and the King telling others about their dastardly plan so decides to bury the money with the father and hope that the girls can get it back. But this shows that Huck has morals and feels empathy unlike the Duke and the King who were prepared to go through with the theft. Although, it should be remembered that the Duke was troubled slightly by the idea of stealing all of the money as ‘he didn’t want to go in any deeper – didn’t want to rob a lot of orphans of everything they had’. But the Duke was still prepared to go ahead with the plan he just didn’t want to take it any further. So, they are absolutely to contrast with Huck who feels morally obligated to return the money to these grieving girls, whilst the Duke does have a pang of conscience, he does nothing to help the girls and shows his lack of morality. The King has even fewer morals as he has no issue whatsoever with stealing from these innocent girls.

  8. Huck and Jim contrast the Duke and the King because they are running away from society and its constraints, finding a better life in nature where they defy society’s rules so that they can be who they are. In contrast, the Duke and the King are trying to fit in with society, running towards the idea of recognition and wealth that it offers. Like Julia said, they’re trying to be someone they’re not by giving themselves royal titles and performing Shakespeare. Perhaps the reason Twain wants us to dislike them so much is because they represent the ideals of society, which are almost comical but sadly true. Both sets of characters are breaking the law, but for different reasons, and as a reader we want Huck and Jim to succeed whereas we want the Duke and the King to be out of the story so the peace on the raft can be regained. The Duke and the King are full of pure self interest, which starkly contrasts Huck and Jim, who have a sense of morality and care deeply for each other. The Duke and the King are also constantly and cruelly toying with Jim’s position as a runaway slave, and throughout, they make Jim appear vulnerable. Maybe this is because they present an immediate danger to Huck and Jim.

  9. There is no morality in the behaviour of the king and the duke. They have no conscience and see no difference between selling Jim and any other of their money-making schemes. Their effect on the harmony of life on the raft is most definitely felt by Huck and Jim as the reader watches their increasingly cruel exploitation of others. We see numerous contrasts between the behaviour of Huck and Jim to the king and the duke. Although Huck and Jim are not equal we see a pure friendship between them, contrasting with the king and the duke massively due to them representing fraud and exploitation not honesty or love.
    The character of Huck is a medium for Twain to present the many dishonesties in the people he meets on his journey with Jim through southern societies. We can see this dishonesty represented by the Duke and the King through the perception of money and when Huck comments on the lack of remorse and feels empathy, unprepared to watch them go through with the theft, acting on what is right. The value and worth of other things such as freedom and honesty is most important to Huck and Jim. Money is not what makes them happy, and although they make large amounts of it, the Duke and the king don’t seem happy as a result either. The contrast stands as Huck and Jim being easily satisfied by their life on the river, the money not being the solution to either of their struggles, and the King and the Duke who constantly prove their immoral aims through cruel acts, never being satisfied with what they have.

  10. – It certainly can be argued that there are contrasts between the Duke and the King and Huck and Jim, but there are also a few similarities, such as the fact that both pairs are running from something. Their first appearance comes in chapter nineteen, where, to the reader, almost instantly are seen as outsiders, who disturb the tranquillity of Huck and Jim’s adventures and relationship on the river. As Huck remarks, “here comes a couple of men tearing up the path as tight as they could foot it,” even from his initial description, it may be argued that these men are the perfect example of disturbance, and therefore are already juxtaposed to the characters of Huck and Jim.
    – This contrast carries through the proceeding chapters and is most shown in ‘The Wilks Scam’ which the Duke and the King both commit. Huck may have a corrupted sense of morality, but he certainly acquires more empathy and guilt than the Duke and the King and this is shown when Huck wants to “steal that money” back, as his “mind’s made up; [he’ll] hive that money for them or bust,” showcasing a genuine show of emotion and affinity for the three girls. This is so distinct in the way the conmen act, fooling the girls and taking the sorrowful situation into something they can gain material out of. They have absolutely no sense of regret or shame for their behaviour. Even Huck comments how he’s “never seen anything so disgusting” at the how the frauds “rested their heads on the coffin,” went about kissing and placing their hands on top of the women’s heads all to convey their act of deceit.
    – The relationship between the two pairs of men is also contrasted with one another as there is a sweet, caring element to Huck and Jim’s interactions whereas with the Duke and the King, they don’t seem to glance one look at one another in terms of compassion; it is all about the materialism for them. Twain may be using these two distinct duos to criticise the relationships in American society at the time; individuals were not focusing on the emotional forms of interacting with another person but averting their attention on what materials they could attain from them.

  11. The Duke and the King are one of the many adventures which disrupt the peace Huck and Jim find alone on the river. The Duke and King contrast the pair in their chaotic nature but are similar in how both consistently get themselves into exciting, yet troubling situations; for example, how the Duke and King exploit the townspeople and Huck’s unexpected adventure with the Murderers. However, the Duke and King are unique because they stay with the pair for many chapters. They take control over the raft and direct its course, and with it the narrative course of our main characters. As a reader, you can feel the shift in power and start to feel uneasy at the uncertainty of the situation – Twain throws us off balance by disturbing the repetitive rhythm of the narrative. This experience shows how it is impossible for Huck and Jim to ever escape the toils of American society, and its ability to restrict people’s free will.

    Jim often serves as Huck’s moral guide. He brings out Huck’s morals, exemplified in the quote “people would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference”. He often challenges Huck’s existing moral compass, for example, Huck learns to see Jim as equally as human, regardless of race, saying “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white does for ther’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon so”. Perhaps, as Miss Baldwin said, the Duke and King represent what Huck could have become if not for his experiences with Jim. Twain doesn’t explain the con-men’s past, or how they came to be so amoral – like Huck, they create imaginative stories about their background. They are robbed of humanistic qualities and act as quintessential examples of corruption and wickedness. However, by seeing them as human, it is possible to imagine an alternative future for Huck: motivated perhaps by a bitter hatred for society after what he has witnessed, namely the senseless killing of Buck, and without guidance, he could have eventually lost his conscience along with his ability to empathise with people, such as the murderers in Chapter 13 – “I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix”. Therefore, it is significant that the Duke and King sell Jim – Huck must choose between becoming like the Duke and the King, or to do the right thing. Perhaps the river is not the actual source of Huck’s freedom and peace, as has been claimed by Lionel Trilling and T.S.Eliot, and in fact it’s Jim.

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