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Mark Twain 1835-1910
Huckleberry Finn’s friend Jim was a slave, and Jim was caught as a runaway slave while on a trip with Huck. In the following passage, Huck considers whether or not to write a letter to Jim’s owner and do what society expected of him (turn Jim in) or to be loyal to his friend and help him escape to freedom. In these lines are a decision by Huck which both embody and symbolize a turning point in American history.
A passage from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that slave goes to everlasting fire.”
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that slave’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter — and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway slave Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade) (Gutenberg.org, August 20, 2006 [EBook #76]).
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A passage from The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
[Aboard the vessel Quaker City headed for Europe in 1867]
I picked up a good deal of information during the afternoon. At one time I was climbing up the quarterdeck when the vessel’s stem was in the sky; I was smoking a cigar and feeling passably comfortable. Somebody ejaculated:
“Come, now, that won’t answer. Read the sign up there – NO SMOKING ABAFT THE WHEEL!”
It was Captain Duncan, chief of the expedition. I went forward, of course. I saw a long spyglass lying on a desk in one of the upper-deck state-rooms back of the pilot-house and reached after it – there was a ship in the distance.
“Ah, ah – hands off! Come out of that!”
I came out of that. I said to a deck-sweep – but in a low voice: “Who is that overgrown pirate with the whiskers and the discordant voice?”
“It’s Captain Bursley – executive officer – sailing master.”
I loitered about awhile, and then, for want of something better to do, fell to carving a railing with my knife. Somebody said, in an insinuating, admonitory voice:
“Now, say – my friend – don’t you know any better than to be whittling the ship all to pieces that way? You ought to know better than that.”
I went back and found the deck sweep.
“Who is that smooth-faced, animated outrage yonder in the fine clothes?”
“That’s Captain L****, the owner of the ship – he’s one of the main bosses.”
In the course of time I brought up on the starboard side of the pilot-house and found a sextant lying on a bench. Now, I said, they “take the sun” through this thing; I should think I might see that vessel through it. I had hardly got it to my eye when someone touched me on the shoulder and said deprecatingly:
“I’ll have to get you to give that to me, Sir. If there’s anything you’d like to know about taking the sun, I’d as soon tell you as not – but I don’t like to trust anybody with that instrument. If you want any figuring done – Aye, aye, sir!”
He was gone to answer a call from the other side. I sought the deck-sweep.
“Who is that spider-legged gorilla yonder with the sanctimonious countenance?”
“It’s Captain Jones, sir – the chief mate.”
“Well. This goes clear away ahead of anything I ever heard of before. Do you – now I ask you as a man and a brother – do you think I could venture to throw a rock here in any given direction without hitting a captain of this ship?”
“Well, sir, I don’t know – I think likely you’d fetch the captain of the watch maybe, because he’s a-standing right yonder in the way.”
I went below – meditating and a little downhearted. I thought, if five cooks can spoil a broth, what may not five captains do with a pleasure excursion.
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1869; 1899), chapter 3, 63-65.
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