Jim and Huck find a number of valuables among the robbers’ bounty from the
Huck and Jim approach the Ohio River, their goal. One foggy night, Huck, in the canoe, gets separated from Jim and the raft. He tries to paddle back to the raft, but the fog is so thick that he loses all sense of direction. After a lonely time adrift, Huck reunites with Jim, who is asleep on the raft. Jim is thrilled to see Huck alive, but Huck tries to trick Jim by pretending that Jim dreamed up their entire separation. Jim tells Huck the story of his dream, making the fog and the troubles he faced on the raft into an allegory of their journey to the free states. But soon Jim notices all the debris, dirt, and tree branches that collected on the raft while it was adrift. He gets mad at Huck for making a fool of him after he had worried about him so much. Huck eventually apologizes and does not regret it. He feels bad about hurting Jim.
Jim and Huck worry that they will miss Cairo, the town at the mouth of the Ohio River, which runs into the free states. Meanwhile, Huck’s conscience troubles him deeply about helping Jim escape from his “rightful owner,” Miss Watson, especially after all she has done for Huck. Jim talks on and on about going to the free states, especially about his plan to earn money to buy the freedom of his wife and children. If their masters refuse to give up Jim’s family, Jim plans to have some abolitionists kidnap them. When Huck and Jim think they see Cairo, Huck goes out on the canoe to check, having secretly resolved to give Jim up. But Huck’s heart softens when he hears Jim call out that Huck is his only friend, the only one to keep a promise to him.
Huck comes upon some men in a boat who want to search his raft for escaped slaves. Huck pretends to be grateful, saying no one else would help them. He leads the men to believe that his family is on board the raft and is suffering from smallpox. The men, fearing infection, back away and tell Huck to go further downstream and lie about his family’s condition to get help. Out of pity, they leave Huck forty dollars in gold. Huck feels bad because he thinks he has done wrong in not giving Jim up. However, he realizes he would feel just as bad if he had given Jim up. Huck resolves to disregard morality in the future and do what’s “handiest.”
Floating along, Huck and Jim pass several towns and worry that they have passed Cairo in the fog. They stop for the night and resolve to take the canoe upriver but in the morning discover that it has been stolen. They attribute the canoe’s disappearance to continued bad luck from the snakeskin on Jackson’s Island. Later, a steamboat collides with the raft, breaking it apart. Jim and Huck dive off in time but are separated. Huck makes it ashore, but a pack of dogs corners him.
We see in these chapters that Huck, though open-minded, still largely subscribes to the Southern white conception of the world. When Jim assesses their “adventure,” Huck does admit that he has acted foolishly and jeopardized Jim’s safety, but he qualifies his assessment by adding that Jim is smart—for a black person. Huck also genuinely struggles with the question of whether or not to turn over Jim to the white men who ask if he is harboring any runaway slaves. In some sense, Huck still believes that turning Jim in would be the “right” thing to do, and he struggles with the idea that Miss Watson is a slave owner yet still seems to be a “good” person. Over the course of these chapters, as he spends more time with Jim, Huck is forced to question the facts that white society has taught him and that he has taken for granted.
The arguments Huck and Jim have over Huck’s stories provide remarkable mini-allegories about slavery and race. When Huck tells the tale of King Solomon, who threatened to chop a baby in half, Jim argues that Solomon had so many children that he became unable to value human life properly. Huck’s comments lead us to compare Jim’s assessment of Solomon with whites’ treatments of blacks at the time—as infinitely replaceable bodies, indistinguishable from one another. Later, Huck tells Jim that people in France don’t speak English. Huck tries to convince the skeptical Jim by pointing out that cats and cows don’t “talk” the same, and that, by analogy, neither should French people and American people. Jim points out that both are men and that the analogy is inappropriate. Although Jim is misinformed in a sense, he is correct in his assessment of Huck’s analogy. Jim’s argument provides yet another subtle reminder that, in American society at the time, not all men are treated as men. Although Jim’s discussion with Huck shows that both have clever minds, we see that Jim is less imprisoned by conventional wisdom than Huck, who has grown up at least partly in mainstream white society.
We see the moral and societal importance of Huck and Jim’s journey in Huck’s profound moral crisis about whether he should return Jim to Miss Watson. In the viewpoint of Southern white society, Huck has effectively stolen $800—the price the slave trader has offered for Jim—from Miss Watson. However, Jim’s comment that Huck is the only white man ever to keep his word to him shows that Huck has been treating Jim not as a slave but as a man. This newfound knowledge, along with Huck’s guilt, keep Huck from turning Jim in. Huck realizes that he would have felt worse for doing the “right” thing and turning Jim in than he does for not turning Jim in. When Huck reaches this realization, he makes a decision to reject conventional morality in favor of what his conscience dictates. This decision represents a big step in Huck’s development, as he realizes that his conscience may be a better guide than the dictates of the white society in which he has been raised.