Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas, rattled by the mysterious letter, send Tom and Huck to bed right after supper. Later that night, Huck sees that fifteen uneasy local farmers with guns have gathered in the front room of the house. Huck goes to the shed to warn Jim and Tom, but news of the armed men only excites Tom even more. Suddenly, the men attack the shed. In the darkness, Tom, Huck, and Jim escape through the hole they cut in the wall. Tom makes a noise going over the fence, attracting the attention of the men, who shoot at the boys and Jim as they run. They make it to their canoe and set off downstream toward the island where the raft is hidden. They delight in their success, especially Tom, who has a bullet in the leg as a souvenir. Huck and Jim are concerned about Tom’s wound, and Jim says they should get a doctor, since Tom would if the situation were reversed. Jim’s statement confirms Huck’s belief that Jim is “white inside.”
Leaving Jim and Tom on the island with the raft, Huck finds a doctor and sends him to Tom in the canoe, which only holds one person. The next morning, Huck runs into Silas, who takes him home. The place is filled with farmers and their wives, all discussing the bizarre contents of Jim’s shed and the hole. They conclude that a band of robbers of amazing skill must have tricked not only the Phelpses and their friends but also the original desperadoes who sent the letter. Sally refuses to let Huck out to find Tom (who she still thinks is Sid), since she is so sad to have lost Sid and does not want to risk another boy. Huck, touched by her concern, vows never to hurt her again.
Tom does not return, and Silas’s efforts to find him end in vain. In the meantime, a letter arrives from Aunt Polly, Sally’s sister. Sally casts the letter aside when she sees Tom, who she thinks is Sid. The boy is brought in semi-conscious on a mattress, accompanied by a crowd including Jim, in chains, and the doctor. Some of the local men would like to hang Jim but are unwilling to risk having to compensate Jim’s master. They treat Jim roughly and chain him hand and foot inside the shed. The doctor intervenes, telling the crowd how Jim has sacrificed his freedom to help nurse Tom.
Sally, meanwhile, stays at Tom’s bedside, glad that his condition has improved. Tom wakes and gleefully details how they set Jim free. Horrified to learn that Jim is now in chains, Tom explains that Miss Watson died two months ago and that her will stipulated that Jim should be set free. The old woman regretted ever having considered selling Jim down the river. Just then, Aunt Polly walks into the room. She has come to Arkansas from St. Petersburg after receiving a letter from Sally mentioning that Sid Sawyer—Tom’s alias—had arrived with “Tom”—who was actually Huck. Tom has been intercepting communications between the sisters, and Polly has been forced to appear in person to sort out the confusion. After a tearful reunion with Sally, she identifies Tom and Huck and yells at both boys for their misadventures.
But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.
When Huck asks Tom what he had planned to do once he had freed the already-freed Jim, Tom replies that he was planning to repay Jim for his troubles and send him back a hero, giving him a reception complete with a marching band. When Aunt Polly and the Phelpses hear about the assistance Jim gave the doctor in nursing Tom, they immediately unchain him, feed him, and treat him like a king. Tom gives Jim forty dollars for his troubles, and Jim declares that the omen of his hairy chest—which was supposed to bring him fortune—has come true.
Tom makes a full recovery and wears the bullet from his leg on a watch-guard around his neck. He and Huck would like to go on another adventure, to “Indian Territory” (present-day Oklahoma). Huck thinks it quite possible that Pap has taken all his money by now, but Jim says that could not have happened. Jim tells Huck that the dead body they found on the floating house during the flood was Pap. Huck now has nothing more to write about and is “rotten glad” about that, because writing a book turned out to be quite a task. He does not plan any future writings. Instead, he plans to head out west immediately because Aunt Sally is already trying to “sivilize” him. Huck has had quite enough of that.
The ending of
At the end of the novel, Tom seems to be beyond reform, Huck opts out of society in his desire to go to Oklahoma, and the other adults are left in compromised positions. Jim is the only character who comes out of the mess looking like a respectable adult. By helping the doctor treat Tom and shielding Huck from seeing his father’s corpse, Jim yet again affirms that he is a decent human being. The Phelpses, although they immediately try to make amends for their previous treatment of Jim, still own slaves. Miss Watson, although she has done the right thing by freeing Jim, sullies her good intentions by making the action a provision of her will, something to be carried out in the future—at her death—rather than immediately. Aunt Sally smothers, Aunt Polly scolds, and everyone bumbles along. In the end, it is no wonder Huck wants to avoid further “sivilizing.”
Possibly the most troubling aspect of the novel’s close is the realization that all has been for naught. Jim has, technically, been a free man almost the entire time. All of Huck’s moral crises, all the lies he has told, all the societal conventions he has broken, have been part of a great game. In a way, the knowledge of Jim’s emancipation erases the novel that has come before it. Ultimately, we are left questioning the meaning of what we have read: perhaps Twain means the novel as a reminder that life is ultimately a matter of imperfect information and ambiguous situations, and that the best one can do is to follow one’s head and heart. Perhaps Twain, finishing this novel twenty years after the Civil War concluded and slaves were freed, means also to say that black Americans may be free in a technical sense, but that they remain chained by a society that refuses to acknowledge their rightful and equal standing as individuals. In a sense, perhaps Tom’s mistreatment of Jim is actually a boon, for it leads the other characters in the novel to acknowledge Jim as a worthy human being. In the end,