The Raft in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master’s degree in Linguistics.

In ”Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” there are sometimes objects that serve the plot as well as the characters. In this lesson, you’ll learn how the raft serves as a plot device.

The Raft

The raft in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the objects that stays with Huck and Jim the longest. Throughout its part of the novel, the raft serves as a plot device. In many cases it literally moves the story along by carrying Huck and Jim down the river, away from one adventure and towards another. It often serves a more active role as well. It sometimes strands them, forcing them into a story line they might otherwise have avoided, or it might provide a quick escape route from dangerous situations.

Initially, while they are on the first island, Huck and Jim have only the canoe that Huck stole from his father. While on that island, though, they catch a raft which is about twelve by fifteen feet. This is obviously much bigger than their canoe, which provides a lot more potential. The raft allows them to build a shelter on it to keep their things dry and to hide in. The size also helps the raft function as a plot device, as you’ll see later on.

Huck and Jim on the raft

Adding to the Adventure

The first time we see the raft acting as something other than transportation is when Huck and Jim come across the wreck of the Walter Scott. When on board the wreck, Huck hears thieves discussing the murder of one of their fellow thieves. He quickly heads back to where the raft was to try and escape, only to find it’s broken away. He and Jim are stranded with the murderers. Eventually they do find the raft again, but losing it briefly proves positive: in the thieves’ boat they find blankets, clothes, and other necessities. In this way the raft provides extra suspense and helps get them needed supplies.

The raft gets them into trouble later. It is hit by a steamboat, forcing Jim and Huck onto shore. This allows the whole subplot with the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons to occur. Another type of transportation might not have had this issue, so the raft once again serves to get Jim and Huck into adventures and move the plot along.

Adding to the Plot

The size of the raft also serves as a plot device. Had Jim and Huck been in the canoe the whole time, they would not have been able to take on the Duke and the Dauphin. This is a long-lasting storyline, spanning a good portion of the latter half of the book. Without the raft, it would never have occurred. So here the raft clearly serves as a plot device, literally making a huge storyline possible.

If the raft had been a boat, Huck and Jim would have been able to escape the Duke and the Dauphin after the incident at the Wilks’ house. As it is, the old men catch up with them, and the storyline concerning the four of them continues. This eventually leads to Jim being sold to the Phelps’, which in turn moves the plot along to what might be considered its climax and later, its resolution.

A Raft for Escape and Safety

The raft works to get Huck and Jim out of trouble almost as often as it gets them into it. For example, even though it causes the trouble on the Walter Scott, it shows up again later to get them out of it. Finding it allows them to abandon the thieves’ boat, which might have caused trouble later on. It also gets them out of the trouble with the Grangerford/Shepherdson feud. It isn’t completely destroyed when the steamboat hits it. This allows Jim to fix it and provides them with an escape route when the feud comes to a head and things get really dangerous.

Finally, it also provides a safe haven for Jim. Having both it and the canoe allows Huck to scout ahead when they reach a town and keep Jim from being caught by slavers. Since it is big enough to hold a shelter, it also provides Jim with a place to hide when they land if they pass populated areas or sections of the river with heavy traffic.

The Meaning of the Raft

It is interesting to note that the raft only serves Jim and Huck while they are together. They don’t find the raft until they’ve already joined up. Later, when Jim is captured, the raft basically falls out of the picture. Huck uses it to get to the shore so he can go find Jim, and then it is never really mentioned again in any significant way. Clearly, then, the raft in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more than just a means of transportation. It gets Jim and Huck into and out of many scrapes, and in many ways represents their time traveling together, symbolizing the powerful bond of friendship between them.

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Lesson Summary

The raft in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn serves many purposes other than simple transportation. It literally moves the plot along, carrying Jim and Huck from one adventure to the next. It also directly causes them to get into a number of interesting situations and helps them escape from just as many. It serves Jim and Huck, and the novel itself very well, keeping them and the plot moving from place to place. In addition, the raft symbolizes the friendship between Huck and Jim, as the raft is really only a presence when they are together in the novel.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Adventures of Tom Sawyer book cover

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not merely a literary classic. It is part of the American imagination. More than any other work in our culture, it established America’s vision of childhood. Mark Twain created two fictional boys, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who still seem more real than most of the people we know. In a still puritanical nation, Twain reminded adults that children were not angels, but fellow human beings, and perhaps all the more lovable for their imperfections and bad grooming. Neither American literature nor America has ever been the same.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” —from an 1888 letter

More Details about the Book


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not merely a literary classic. It is part of the American imagination. More than any other work in our culture, it established America’s vision of childhood. Mark Twain created two fictional boys, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who still seem more real than most of the people we know. In a still puritanical nation, Twain reminded adults that children were not angels, but fellow human beings, and perhaps all the more lovable for their imperfections and bad grooming. Neither American literature nor America has ever been the same.

Introduction to the Book

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) is a book for readers of all ages. Most readers pick it up young and enjoy it, but too few come back to it later on, when its dark shadings and affectionate satire of small-town life might hit closer to home.

The book sold slowly at first but has since become the archetypal comic novel of American childhood. It begins with several chapters of scene-setting episodic skylarking by Tom and his gang. All the grown-ups in the book fret about Tom, fussing at him about his clothes and his manners, but also about his future, and whether this orphaned boy can ever grow up right.

Meanwhile, Tom just wants to cut school, flirt with the new girl, get rich, and read what he pleases. Only after he and his wayward friend Huckleberry Finn accidentally witness a murder will he at last get the chance to live out an adventure as heroic as any in his storybooks. When Tom and his beloved Becky Thatcher become trapped in a dark cave, he must call on all his imagination and ingenuity if he wants even a chance at growing up.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has likely suffered over the years from unfair comparisons to its famous sequel. Huck gets fuller development in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), where he escapes down the river with the runaway slave Jim and, in spite of himself, begins to discover his conscience. But just because Huckleberry Finn is the deeper book doesn’t make Tom Sawyer mere kids’ stuff. Twain never could make up his mind whether Tom Sawyer was for kids or grown-ups, and his book is the better for it.

If Tom stepped out of his 19th-century Missouri small town and into a contemporary American classroom, a guidance counselor would probably tag him as an at-risk latchkey kid. Reading Tom Sawyer today is an invitation to talk about how American childhood has and hasn’t changed—and also to laugh at Twain’s enduring invention of a great American comic voice.

“Now the raft was passing before the distant town. Two or three glimmering lights showed where it lay, peacefully sleeping, beyond the vague vast sweep of star-gemmed water.”
—from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Major Characters in the Book

The Kids

Tom Sawyer is a smart, imaginative, conniving, bossy boy growing up in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri. He’s usually in trouble by the time he gets out of bed, but he’s too well-meaning and funny for anybody to stay mad at him for long.

Huckleberry Finn is the son of the local drunk. Huck does most everything that Tom puts him up to, while Tom covets Huck’s freedom and independence.

Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, and Tom falls hard for her. She’s flirty and headstrong, sometimes manipulative, but brave enough with Tom by her side.

Sid Sawyer, Tom’s half-brother, is the most disgusting goody two-shoes on two legs. Aunt Polly is always measuring Tom against him even though he’s a shameless tattletale, a worrywart, and a crybaby.

The Adults

Aunt Polly has taken care of Tom since his mother died. She truly loves him, but he’s a handful, and she wishes he could be more like that nice Sid.

The Widow Douglas takes Huck into her home and tries to reform him. Her rigidly scheduled life rubs him the wrong way, and only Tom has any luck talking him into staying.

Muff Potter is a drunkard. He’s not an evil man exactly but weak, cowardly, and ripe for anyone to come along and take advantage of him.

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Injun Joe embodies all the fear of the unknown that a small town might feel on the edge of a great unsettled wilderness. Violent and cruel, he earns a little of the reader’s sympathy only at the very end.

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
—Mark Twain, from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain’s two most enduring books, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its often underrated junior partner The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, represent two sides of the same raft. Tom Sawyer is sunny and upright, skirting whirlpools but ultimately hugging the shore of convention. Huck Finn is its deep, dark, wet, rushing underside. Nowhere do these flipsides of Twain’s productively riven personality bob up more conspicuously than at two moments common to each novel: when both title characters attend their own funerals, and when each novel ends with a shaky vow of reform.

In both books the hero gets to live out perhaps every morbid, underappreciated kid’s greatest fantasy: to spy on his own mourners and hear how sorry everybody is, and then to come back from the dead to a hero’s welcome. “She would be sorry some day,” Tom says of Becky, “maybe when it was too late. Ah, if he could only die temporarily!” Typically, Tom lucks into his version of this fantasy. Huck, on the other hand, deliberately fakes his own death to escape his father.

The books’ endings, too, are strikingly similar. In Tom Sawyer, Huck reluctantly allows the Widow Douglas to take him in, but on the last page he doesn’t sound terribly optimistic about sticking it out with her. Meanwhile, in the famous ending to Huck Finn, the title character vows to “light out for the territory” if the widow tries too zealously to “sivilize” him, because he’s “been there before.” Huck has indeed been there before, because Tom Sawyer ended on this same skeptical note.

In fact, Tom and Huck fit their namesake books perfectly. Like Tom, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is outrageous, but also smooth, artful, and anxious to please. A model of literary construction, it stands up straight. Like Huck, on the other hand, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn slouches. It’s ungainly, in need of finishing, and its language often lands it in trouble. It’s also touched by genius. There’s no denying that something’s fundamentally haywire with the end of Huck Finn—yet look closer and see if it isn’t a flaw common to every imperfect life. Huck and Jim have gone wrong after the fork, they’ve overshot something crucial, they’ve lost their way and don’t know how to get back. Who among us hasn’t felt the same? Twain certainly should have. He published his best book at 50 but lived to nearly 75.

Seen this way, Tom and Huck’s Mississippi River becomes an endlessly renewable metaphor. Twain saw as clearly as anybody that as Americans we’re all on this raft together, afloat between oceans, crewed by oarsmen of more than one color, tippy but not aground, not yet.

About Mark Twain

Mark Twain, 1867. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Mark Twain was a man ahead of his time from the day he was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, fully two months early, in tiny Florida, Missouri. Not surprising for a preemie, a profound sense of mortality shadowed him all his life. In addition, Twain survived a youth marked by deaths both sudden and grisly.

Not only did his forbidding father, Judge John Marshall Clemens, die of pneumonia when Twain was 11, but Twain is said to have witnessed the autopsy through a keyhole. He also sat at his beloved brother Henry’s bedside as he lay dying after a steamboat explosion, and Twain forever blamed himself for getting Henry his fateful job on board.

Three other formative experiences made Twain the writer he became. First were the gifted storytellers he grew up listening to, many of them slaves. Next came his early job as a printer’s apprentice. There he literally put words together, by handsetting type, and observed up close what made sentences sing or clang. Finally came Twain’s years in California and Nevada, where he became a newspaperman and found his voice as a writer. There he chose the pen name “Mark Twain,” a riverboat expression meaning two fathoms deep, the divider between safe and dangerously shallow water. A tall tale called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865), widely reprinted almost immediately, cemented his national reputation.

Twain returned from the West and set out for the East—specifically the Middle East, where he traveled on the first-ever luxury cruise and filed dispatches back to stateside newspapers. The eventual result was a national bestseller, The Innocents Abroad (1869), and highbrow acceptance from the tastemakers at the Atlantic Monthly magazine.

Meanwhile, Twain’s personal life settled down. After years of bachelorhood he married Olivia “Livy” Langdon, whom he had first glimpsed in a cameo carried by her brother, Charley, on shipboard. Charley introduced the couple on their return, and after two years Twain overcame the Langdons’ misgivings and they married. She was demure and he was outrageous, but somehow it worked. After the death of their firstborn son, they raised three daughters and lived as happily as Twain’s dark moods permitted.

Twain’s imperishable memories of his boyhood led to the writing of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and, eventually, its more challenging sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Twain wrote well and prolifically almost all his long life, but these two companion pieces stand apart as his masterpieces of childhood and childhood’s end.

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Financial uncertainty and death haunted Twain’s last years even more than they had his first. He went broke keeping up the beautiful house he had built in Connecticut and investing in a series of harebrained schemes. A daughter died, then his adored but frail Livy, and then yet another daughter. Through it all he kept writing—fiction when he could, essays when he couldn’t, plus magnificent letters and journals by the trunkful. Revered across America and around the world, Twain died on April 21, 1910.

Twain on Writing

“God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God’s adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.”
—from an 1878 letter to his brother Orion

“There is no such thing as ‘the Queen’s English.’ The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares!”
—from Following the Equator, 1897

“No sir, not a day’s work in all my life. What I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.”
—from a 1905 interview

“I never write ‘metropolis’ for seven cents, because I can get the same money for ‘city.’ I never write ‘policeman,’ because I can get the same price for ‘cop.'”
—from a 1906 speech, “Spelling and Pictures”

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The Secret History of Disney Rides: Tom Sawyer Island

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Tom Sawyer Island - Secret History of Tom Sawyer Island

Let’s leap into the world of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn! During this secret history of Tom Sawyer Island, we’ll take an adventure much like Tom and Huck took in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Disney’s Tom Sawyer Island is filled with mysteries and quests to be uncovered from the youngest of tadpoles to the eldest of frogs. So jump on your raft and let’s get hoppin’!

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Tom Sawyer Island - Pirate

The Secret History of Tom Sawyer Island

Tom Sawyer Island first opened at Disneyland Park in 1956, which was one year after the park actually opened. When the island opened, guests could hop onto a river raft, travel to the island and explore its many features, including caves, bridges, tree houses and Fort Wilderness. According to, Walt Disney had always envisioned an island smack dab in the middle of the Rivers of America. He threw around several ideas of what this island would consist of, including naming it “Treasure Island” or “Mickey Mouse Island.”

After brainstorming what the island would be, Disney finally landed on Tom Sawyer Island. The island’s design would be “fun and fancy free” and would be an island for kids. Marc David was assigned to create the map of the island. However, Disney was never completely in love with any of Davis’ designs, so he decided to create his own, and therefore, this attraction is the only one completely designed by Walt himself!

The Secret History of Disney Rides: Tom Sawyer Island - Tom Sawyer Island

Unfortunately, many of the fun features of Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island closed throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Via, because of the popularity of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, the island went through some huge changes in 2007 and reopened as Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. New experiences added to the island included Dead Man’s Grotto and Smuggler’s Cove!

Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyer Island was open for adventures on May 20, 1973. The island has the same concept as Disneyland’s version; guests board a free floating river raft and travel to the island. Guests of all ages, but especially young tadpoles, can still explore caves, bridges, Harper’s Mill, Potter’s Mill, Fort Langhorn and more! Unlike Disneyland’s island, it is much unchanged since it originally opened and still holds many of its secrets. You can have adventures inspired by Tom and Huck at Tokyo Disneyland’s version, as well!

Tom Sawyer Island Fun Facts

    at Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyer Island is named after Huck and Tom’s friend, Muff Potter.
  • Cast members used to leave paintbrushes around Tom Sawyer Island for guests to find; guests could turn in the paintbrush and receive a prize!
  • According to The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, the water flowing at the base of the crystal wall inside the Ambush Cave seems to be running uphill. This is an optical illusion, of course!
  • The Settler’s Cabin found on Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island used to be on fire! No one is 100% sure on why the fire was put out for good. It’s been said there was pipe corrosion!
  • Via, Fort Langhorn used to be known as Fort Sam Clemens!
  • Ask what the rafts’ names are! They are each named after a character from the book.

What’s your favorite thing about Tom Sawyer Island? Let us know in the comments below! I’m hoppin’ away to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” once more!




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