[A]nd as we struck into town and up through the middle of it--it was as much as half-after eight, then--here comes a raging rush of people, with torches, and an awful whooping and yelling, and banging tin pans and blowing horns; and we jumped to one side to let them go by; and as they went by, I see they had the king and the dike astraddle of a rail--that is I knowed it was the king and the duke, thought was all over tar and Feathers, and didn’t look like nothing in the world that was human--just looking like a couple of monstrous big soldier-plumes. Well, it made me sick to see it; and I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seemed like I couldn’t never feel any hardness
against them any more in the world. It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.
In the above passage from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, by Mark Twain, Tom and Huck walk through the middle of a town and see two con artists (the king and duke) who they had encountered earlier in their adventures. The king and duke have been captured and are being carried "astraddle of a rail" (369), which websters.com defines as being “on or above and extending onto both sides,” covered with tar and feathers through the town. The above passage displays why Huck disagrees with the public mistreatment and humiliation of others.
According to the online encyclopedic website, www.wikipedia.org, tarring and feathering was a typical punishment used to enforce justice, with roots dating back to as early as 1191 with Richard I of England. The goal of tarring and feathering was to hurt
and humiliate a person enough so that they would leave town and not cause any more mischief. Hot tar was poured onto a criminal while he was immobilized, then feathers were either thrown onto the criminal from buckets or the criminal was thrown into a pile of feathers and rolled around. The criminal was then taken to the edge of town and released in the hopes of him never returning. The feathers would stick to the tar for days making the person's sentence clear to the public. Tarring and feathering was eventually abandoned because it did nothing to rehabilitate the criminal.
Huck tells his readers that after the king and duke are tarred and feathered that they look "...like nothing in the world that [...] [is] human" (369). It is clear from Huck's description of the townspeople "…whooping and yelling, and banging tin pans and blowing horns…" that they are making it a point to draw attention to the "…monstrous big soldier-plumes…" that are the con artists. The sight of two humans covered in tar and feathers makes Huck "…sick to see it…" and makes it difficult for him to "...ever feel any hardness against [...] [the convicts] any more in the world". Just from those few very descriptive sentences it is made obvious to the readers that Huck does not agree with the way his acquaintances are treated.
The dialect that Twain chose for Huck's character is that of a child in early elementary school. Huck makes grammatical errors quite often in his description of the scene of the shameful march through town. Huck tells us that he "...knowed it was the king and the duke, thought was all over tar and feathers, and didn't look like nothing in the world that was human...". Just from reading that sentence, there is an understanding that Huck is not very well-educated. A child in elementary school can rarely see past what is presented to them, therefore we can make the assumption that because Huck has a comparable education to that of a child in elementary school, he has trouble seeing what is right in front of him. For example, when a child goes to sit on Santa's lap at the mall, the child actually sees Santa, not a man in a Santa costume. When Huck walks into town and sees all the townspeople parading down the road with "...a couple of monstrous big soldier-plumes" (369), monstrous soldier-plumes are what he sees. Huck recognizes that the king and duke are under the tar, which evokes the sympathetic feelings from the passage and shows that he disagrees with how the king and duke are being treated, but Huck is also having problems being able to associate the king and duke with being human because they look "...like nothing in the world that [...] [is] human".
Through the tone of Huck’s dialogue, in the above passage, Twain is able to portray a sense of great excitement. Within the 15 lines of the passage, Huck uses the word and 13 times which gives the passage a sense of urgency, and makes it seem as though he is speaking in a stream-of-thought frenzy: "...here comes a raging rush of people, with torches, and an awful whooping and yelling, and banging tin pans and blowing horns; and we jumped to one side to let them go by; and as they went by I see they had the king and the duke astraddle of a rail" (369). Along with using and, Huck cuts his sentences short with the use of dash marks which gives the impression that Huck’s mind is racing faster than his eyes, which are unable to believe what they are seeing. The tone gives the passage an overall good connotation because it helps the reader sense Huck’s excitement.
Through the dialect of Huck, it is shown that he is not very well educated and his thinking faster than he can speak tone, in which he speaks throughout the above passage makes it clear that he is completely appalled by the sight of his acquaintances covered in tar and feathers.
W O R K S C I T E D
"Astraddle." Def. 1. Merriam-Webster. 08 Feb. 2005
"Tarring and Feathering." 17 Jan. 2005. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. 25 Jan.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume C. Sixth Edition. Ed Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. pp. 219-407.