Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Common hoaxes in Twain's stories vs. hoax in Huck Finn

Twain uses a number of hoaxes in quite a few of his stories. We have discussed this in class, but I have recently noticed that many of the people who are playing the hoax on whoever, tend to get away in Twain’s stories. In the short story The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, we see Jim Smiley get conned out of money when a stranger came into town and Smiley bet the stranger that his frog could out jump any frog, so the stranger told Smiley, “I ain’t got no frog; but if I had a frog, I’d bet you” (CSS 5). This caused Smiley to go into the swamps and get the stranger a frog; the stranger took this opportunity to fill the frog with quail-shot so that the frog would be too heavy to jump. Once the challenge began and Smiley’s frog, Daniel, didn’t jump he was very confused because he had trained this frog for a while. Well, Smiley that meant that Smiley lost the bet, and the stranger got away with the hoax, “the feller took the money and started away” (6). Also, in Twain’s short story The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, the stranger that plays a trick on the town gets away with it once again, with no consequences. Through an elaborate series of letters and a large lump sum of cash waiting to be collected by the person who could give the correct answer, a man was able to corrupt “the most honest and upright town in all the region around about” (419); “Hadleyburg in reality was an incorruptible town” (420). The stranger showed that this town was, in fact, corruptible and that the people weren’t as honest as they were made out to be. The man, once again, played out his hoax and did it with no consequence to himself. This seems to be a common theme in Twain’s works, the person playing the hoax doesn’t get punished, but the people who are being tricked seem to be the ones that do get punished.

I bring these two stories up because it is important to note that in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Huck tries to play a hoax on Jim it backfires. In chapter 15, Huck tries to convince Jim that he has been in the raft with him the whole time. He tells Jim “I hain’t seen no fog, nor no islands, nor no troubles, nor nothing. I been setting here talking with you all night till you went to sleep about ten minutes ago, and I reckon I done the same” (Huckleberry Finn 97). Jim doesn’t seem convinced that what they had just endured was only a dream, but once he realized that Huck was trying to trick him, Jim was very upset. He made sure to let Huck know how he really felt:

when I wake up en fine you back agin’, all safe en soun’, de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss’ yo’ foot I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin ‘bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed (98),

which made Huck feel guilty about his actions. After a while Hick apologizes to Jim and explains “I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way” (98). This hoax doesn’t seem to be like the majority of the hoaxes played in Twain’s other stories; this time the person who plays the trick, Huck, is punished for his actions by Jim, who was having the trick played on him. It makes me wonder why Twain choses this particular hoax to have a different outcome than the majority of his other hoaxes in stories? Is it because Huck is a young boy instead of a man? Or is it because he is playing a trick on a friend instead of a stranger?


  1. Jmi, you bring up a good question, when you asked why Twain used the hoax with Huck trying to trick Jim, on the raft. I really didn't think of comparing all of the hoaxes in all of the other Twain stories to see that the Huck/Jim hoax involved two friends, rather than a hoax played on strangers. Well, maybe Twain uses this hoax to express that hoaxes can be played by both strangers and familiars. One must be aware of others' intentions, and this may be a bit cynical to say, but, one can hardly ever fully trust another person. But alas, this is my own opinion, and through my life, I have had to learn this the hard way.

  2. Yup this is a very interesting question, Huck changes alot throughout the book as far as i have read. He begins in loving hoaxes and tricking others and then when it comes to taking the girls inheritance with the Duke and the King he hesitates and steals the money back from them. This is interesting because i wonder if Huck is really doing it for the good of the girls or if he is lieing to the readers and is really self interested himself, is he really reformed because he hurt Jim?

  3. Hmm, interesting point. I think that Huck learns a valuable lesson when he realizes what his actions did to Jim. He feels very bad and makes a promise to himself not to do it again. I think Twain chose to have Huck's hoax against Jim fail, so he could have this experience better Huck. Like I said before, Huck learned a valuable lesson. And I think that Jim and him are better friends because of it.