The narrator (later identified as Huckleberry Finn) begins Chapter One by stating that the reader may know of him from another book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by “Mr. Mark Twain,” but it “ain’t t no matter” if you have not. According to Huck, Twain mostly told the truth, with some “stretchers” thrown in, though everyone–except Tom’s Aunt Polly, the widow, and maybe Mary–lies once in a while. The other book ended with Tom and Huckleberry finding the gold some robbers had hidden in a cave. They got six thousand dollars apiece, which Judge Thatcher put in trust, so that they each got a dollar a day from interest. The Widow Douglas adopted and tried to “civilise” Huck. But Huck couldn’t stand it so he threw on his old rags and ran away. But he went back when Tom Sawyer told him he could join his new band of robbers if he would return to the Widow “and be respectable.”
The Widow lamented over her failure with Huck, tried to stuff him into cramped clothing, and before every meal had to “grumble” over the food before they could eat it. She tried to teach him about Moses, until Huck found out he was dead and lost interest. Meanwhile, she would not let him smoke; typically, she disapproved of it because she had never tried it, but approved of snuff since she used it herself. Her slim sister who wears glasses, Miss Watson, tried to give him spelling lessons.
Meanwhile, Huck was going stir-crazy, made especially restless by the sisters’ constant reminders to improve his behavior. When Miss Watson told him about the “bad place,” Hell, he burst out that he would like to go there, as a change of scenery. Secretly, Huck really does not see the point in going to “the good place” and resolved then not to bother trying to get there. When Huck asked, Miss Watson told him there was no chance Tom Sawyer would end up in Heaven. Huck was glad “because I wanted him and me to be together.”
One night, after Miss Watson’s prayer session with him and the slaves, Huck goes to bed feeling “so lonesome I wished I was dead.” He gets shivers hearing the sounds of nature through his window. Huck accidentally flicks a spider into a candle, and is frightened by the bad omen. Just after midnight, Huck hears movement below the window, and a “me-yow” sound, that he responds to with another “me-yow.” Climbing out the window onto the shed, Huck finds Tom Sawyer waiting for him.
In a few short dense pages, Twain manages to accomplish a great deal. Most importantly, the two introductory notes and the first chapter establish the author’s use of humor and irony, the character of Huckleberry Finn, the novel’s theme, narration, and the use of dialect. One hateful word the characters use has brought occasional condemnation onto the book and its author. The characters of the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson are also established. As well, the author establishes that the reader needs no familiarity with his previous work, Tom Sawyer, to understand Huckleberry Finn, though he fills the reader in on the pertinent information from the previous work.
The brief “Notice” that introduces the book has been reprinted above in its entirety. In humorously highfalutin language, it states that the reader must not seek plot, “moral,” or “motive”– the last two of which likely correspond to the present-day concepts of theme and character development. Of course, what the author really means by this notice is that the book does in fact contain all these things–that it is more than just a children’s, adventure, or humor book. Twain is using irony, saying one thing but meaning the opposite of its literal definition. He is using this irony humorously, covering this declaration of the book’s seriousness in a joke. The joke pokes fun at the seriousness of adult American society, with its rules and officials, especially with the citation to “G.G., Chief of Ordinance.” Twain will use humor and irony throughout the book, most often combining the two. Indeed, humor usually occurs as a result of irony, with the gap between the expected