In Chapter 27, Twain extends his satire to the pomp and circumstance surrounding the funeral service of Peter Wilks. The dark humor of the funeral scene is evident with the actions of the undertaker and the comical interlude of the dog and the rat. When the service is interrupted by the noise of the dog, the undertaker solves the disturbance and then proceeds to tell the mourners that “He had a rat!” Huck’s following comment that “there warn’t no more popular man in town than what that undertaker was” is yet another satiric barb directed at the subject of death.
In contrast to the burlesque humor of the funeral and its concerned mourners, Chapter 28 serves to establish Mary Jane’s sense of compassion, an important example for Huck to follow. In witnessing her reaction to the plight of the slave family, Huck learns another valuable lesson about the humanity of slaves and their close familial bonds. The scene provokes memories of Jim’s own claim that he will steal his children out of slavery in order to preserve his family. More important, the scene forces Huck to act based on both his instincts and his conscience. Not only will he tell the daughters where to find the gold, he will also tell them of the entire scam so that the slave family will not be separated.
Huck’s decision to help the daughters should not be overlooked. To this point, Huck has generally aligned himself with tricksters and con men; he displays, after all, all of the huckster qualities that the duke and the king use. When the duke and king dupe the people of Bricksville, Huck feels no remorse because the town is morally void and generally squalid. When the duke and the king con the Wilks daughters, however, Huck is outraged and realizes he must intervene, regardless of the consequences.
One of the more powerful human statements is the act of sacrifice, and Huck’s resolve to help the daughters illustrates the change that has come over his character. His decision to act foreshadows the novel’s climatic moment in Chapter 31.
melodeum melodeon; a small keyboard organ.
erysipelas an acute infectious disease of the skin or mucous membranes caused by a streptococcus and characterized by local inflammation and fever.
harrow a frame with spikes or sharp-edged disks, drawn by a horse or tractor and used for breaking up and leveling plowed ground, covering seeds, rooting up weeds, etc.
muggins a fool.