The Trial of Huckleberry Finn

By Wesley Britton

Based on the works of Mark Twain

Copyright © Wesley Britton, 1996

Wesley Britton
Sherman, TX 75090


John Hoffman, a black critic
Mark Twain
David Wilson, Twain's attorney
Huckleberry Finn
Jim, a slave
Sandy, a young slave
Roxy, a white slave
Tom Sawyer
Mrs. Clemens
Pap Finn/Man


Three areas of the stage are set below three lights. The stage is dark and each area is illuminated only when actors are speaking lines in their area.

STAGE RIGHT: A judge's podium with a witness box facing the audience.

CENTER STAGE: One speaker's podium faces the audience. Behind it is the witness table where attorneys and Mark Twain sit.

STAGE LEFT:Backdrop of Mississippi River with a tent on a raft close to the audience. Huckleberry will sit at the edge of the stage as if sitting on the front of the raft.

                             Act One
(Curtain closed, Mark Twain steps center stage)
TWAIN:  Allow me this opportunity to introduce myself.  For many
years, I have always preferred to introduce myself so I can be sure
to get in all the facts.  I like paying compliments to myself, and
believe I will do so right now.  Ladies and gentlemen, before you
stands one of two marvels of the nineteenth
century.  One is Rupyard Kipling who knows all that matters.  I am
Mark Twain, and I know all the rest.  I stand before you in the
tradition of Chaucer and Shakespeare.  Of course, there's always
one problem being among the great writers of our
language.  Chaucer is dead, Milton is dead, Shakespeare is dead,
and I'm not feeling well myself.
     I've come to prefer introducing myself to avoid thunderbolts
like the occasion when a lawyer, standing at the podium with his
hands in his pockets, introduced me as a humorist who is really
funny.  After I recovered from this marvelous insight, I
complimented him.  I told the audience we had a rarer thing in our
presence than a humorist who is really funny.  We had a lawyer who
kept his hands in his own pockets.
     I should tell you, for many years I was not a shy man. 
No, I expressed myself in many books and stories and essays and
created characters still alive in the imagination of the world.  I
created Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher and The Prince
and the Pauper and The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
and perhaps my most famous character of all, myself.  I made a
second career of standing before folks like you telling stories of
my life as a steamboat pilot, a miner, a journalist, a
traveler, a philosopher who met kings and presidents and the
average of man all around.  I've been called many things and been
many things, but I must confess something to you tonight.  Some of
the accusations hurled at me rankle me to the marrow.  I suppose
the charge that hurts me most is to be called a racist.  Well, if
you're talking about the French, you're right.  But if you're
talking about the oppressed Americans i knew as slaves in
my boyhood, well, the charge is off by a wide margin. I aim to
convince you of that tonight.
     In particular, I've noticed my book, The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn, continues to be at the center of angry firestorms
just as it was the day it appeared in 1885, so
long ago.  I had much to say about my book then, I have even more
to say about it now.  But it's a terrible death to be talked to
death, so instead of me standing here preaching, I'm going to do
just like one of my books.  I have some characters, a boy named
Huck, a slave named Jim, a lawyer named David Wilson and some other
folks I'm going to resurrect from the mists of time and present
them to you anew.  Together, we're going to put my book
on trial and you're going to be judge and jury.  When we're done,
well, I eagerly await your verdict.  I'm going to stand back now
and let two realities unite, the world of long ago and the world in
which you sit all comfortable waiting for a show.  If you're quiet
just a moment, I bet you'll conjure up an image of a young boy come
to life.  Then we'll see what happens together.  I 
don't know what the outcome will be--only you can determine that. 
After, of course, a bit of a debate.

(Twain steps behind curtain which slowly opens to dark stage. 
Hoffman is sitting in the witness box, Wilson behind the podium. 
From Stage Right, Huckleberry Finn, a young boy, 9-12 years of age,
dressed shabbily, shoeless, with a fishing pole over one shoulder
and a copy of Huckleberry Finn under the other arm.  He walks
lazily across the front of the stage, pausing Center Stage to look
and speak to the audience.  After his speech, he proceeds to sit on
the front of the raft, legs dangling as if in water.  While the
action takes place not involving him, he will alternately pantomime
fishing, reading, or watching the other actors.)

H. FINN:  You don't know 'bout me unless you read a book about me
by Mister Mark Twain.  In that book, he told some stretchers, but
mostly, he told the truth.  Mainly. (Immediately after "Mainly,"
light shines on Stage Right and Center.  Wilson faces John Hoffman,
both with right arms held upward.  Wilson speaks immediately after
Huck's speech.)

WILSON:  Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth, so help you God?

HOFFMAN:  I do.  That's why I'm here.  (Both men drop their arms.)

WILSON:  Mr. Hoffman, you're a leading advocate of those who
claim Mark Twain's book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, should
be taken off school shelves, denounced as racist trash.  Would you
please tell the jury (indicating audience) why?

HOFFMAN: (Looking at audience, holding up copy of book): Because
this book is racist trash pure and simple,  It uses the word
`nigger' two hundred and eleven times.  Man, that sets up a
distinct emotional block for any black child forced to read this
trash.  It depicts blacks, particularly a slave named Jim, as
superstitious, liars, thieves, ignorant, a derogatory stereotype no
black child needs to hear about.  No black child needs to be
embarrassed or humiliated about their heritage, and no white child
needs an excuse to see his peers in such a derogatory light. 
Anyone writing this is clearly racist in any time in history--this
book is garbage, not literature.  And I don't speak alone--this
book has been challenged in schools in Colorado, Texas, Florida,
New York, Illinois, and, most telling, even the Mark Twain
Intermediate school in Fairfax, Virginia by WHITE teachers.  That's
who I stand for, that's who I represent.

WILSON: Let me make sure I understand you.  You're opposed to the
first amendment, you 're  saying this book should be banned despite
the freedom of speech?

HOFFMAN:  This is not a first amendment issue--its a fourteenth
amendment issue, equal protection for all.  I'm interested in
protecting black children from this grotesque effrontery to their
race, and no rationalization that this is a classic can take away
the unadulterated pain this book causes.

WILSON: I notice you claim the character of the slave, Jim, is
superstitious and a liar.  Have you read Mr. Twain's Adventures of
Tom Sawyer, Mr. Hoffman?

HOFFMAN: Yes, long ago.  I don't recall anything about race in that
book for children, so I'm not challenging it.

WILSON:  Are you aware that in that book, the white children, Tom
Sawyer, Huck Finn, Ben Rogers, Joe Harper and the rest are as
superstitious as the blacks in Huck Finn?  In Mr. Twain's books,
both whites and blacks lie to their parents, to their teachers, to
the law.  Doesn't this mute your charge that lying and superstition
are characteristics of black stereotypes?

HOFFMAN:  Irrelevant and immaterial.  We're only interested in how
blacks are portrayed.  You don't hear the other boys called

WILSON: Surely that's a narrow way to evaluate art, but let's
address your points.    I 'd like to read you this letter, Mr.
Hoffman, and get your response to it.  (Holds up page).  On
Christmas Eve 1885, the very year Huckleberry Finn was published,
Mark Twain paid tuition at Yale Law school for a young black man
named Warner T. McGwinn. Twain explained to the Law School Dean his
reasons in this letter.  (Reads)
     "I do not believe I would very cheerfully help a white student
who ask a benevolence of a stranger, but I do not feel so about the
other color. We have ground the manhood out of them, and the shame
is ours, not theirs, and we should pay for it."  
Words of a racist, Mr. Hoffman?

HOFFMAN: Maybe, maybe not, but those aren't the words of his book. 
It's his damnable book I'm here to protest against. 

WILSON: Tell us how is it that many black Americans defend
Huckleberry Finn, as in McKinney, Texas, where in 1996 a black
woman teacher wanted to teach the book but was challenged by her
white principal? 

HOFFMAN:  Sure, many readers, white and black disagree with me. 
But many of us agree it isn't a great classic for a number of
reasons, and I'm far from the first to say so.  In 1885, the white
librarians of this land, like the Concord Library in Boston, banned
it because its language is coarse, its ideas are not elevating, and
that it belongs in slums, their words, not mine.  If it's not good
for white kids, it's not good for black children either.  It was
white people, like Miss Louisa May Alcott, who said the book was
riddled with bad grammar, profanity, vulgarity, bad manners--how do
you call that a classic, Mr. Wilson?

MARK TWAIN: (Stands in his seat):  Your honor, may I stipulate that
point?  I happily plead guilty as charged on all those counts.  I
find this entire human race coarse, bad mannered, vulgar hypocrites
and that's the unvarnished truth.  I couldn't keep all that out of
any book  without it being a misshapen lie.

WILSON:  Mr. Hoffman, the defense  reserves the right to call you
back to the stand.  Right now, we call Samuel Langhorn Clemens,
also known as Mark Twain, the master of bad manners and bad
grammar, if you will.

(Hoffman and Twain exchange places.)

WILSON:  You sound like a man with something to get off your chest. 
What do you want to say about your book, Mr. Twain?

TWAIN: Well, first of all, I've heard it said many times Huck got
no more manners than a mudcat.  That's true.  With good reason.  I
can't be blamed for that.  Talk to the creator of Adam.  I only
call what I see. As for bad grammar, well, Huck could have said
perspiration instead of sweat. But Huck isn't a Sunday School book of phony role models for children--he's a real boy from a real
background.   And reality is full of warts, lies, superstitions.  

WILSON:  I believe Mr. Hoffman might say that's not much of a
defense.  Who wants to hear the words of a racist, especially now
that times have changed from the days of your youth, Mr. Twain?

TWAIN:   I must confess I too had some worries about Huckleberry,
and still have many.  It's gratifying to me that black citizens of
this land have changed much since my day.  When i was young, black
slaves didn't read.  As I grew older, folks like Booker T.
Washington, whose hand I was gratified to shake, said freed slaves
needed to learn trades and expect equality to come slowly.  After
my death, black identity changed for the better. Now black writers,
I hear, win Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and teach at the finest
universities.  Some of which (he smiles) even defend my books, you

WILSON:  So what do you say to those who honestly claim the words
of your book cause pain in young children?  Do you believe that is

TWAIN: Unquestionably.  I do sympathize with Mr. Hoffman's
position.  I mean that sincerely.  I too know full well that
reading books can soil a child forever and they can never be washed
clean.  I myself cherish an unforgiving bitterness for my guardians
for compelling me to read the unexpurgated Bible. After that, no
one can have a free breath this side of the grave.

WILSON: The Bible, Mr. Twain?

TWAIN:  Oh yes, I feel some irony that Huck and the Bible sit side
by side in children's libraries.  I once said I couldn't defend
Huck any better than I could defend King David, Solomon, Satan, or
the rest of the sacred brethren.

HOFFMAN:  I object to all this blasphemy--your honor, I request Mr.
Wilson confine Mr. Twain's comments to the matter at hand, the
racism of Huckleberry Finn.  Mr. Twain's  sour attitudes about the
Bible and mankind do nothing for his case. 

WILSON:  Again, we're looking through a very narrow prism.  If
you're going to talk about a book, it seems you ought to look at
the whole of it and the philosophy of the man who wrote it.

HOFFMAN: Irrelevant and immaterial.   This trial is about race.
Please confine your questions to that issue and that issue alone.

WILSON:  Alright, Mr. Twain, let's address the subject of Huck Finn
and race.  Is your book racist? 
TWAIN:  The simple and sad truth about my book is that it IS about
racism, racism through and through.  Racism permeates it.  It's
about a boy growing up in a town just like my boyhood home of
Hannibal, Missouri.  Huck's St. Petersburg, like my  Hannibal,
indeed, like all of the American South before the Civil War,
believed slavery was, well, simply ordinary.

WILSON:  You're saying the character of Huck was drawn from your
personal experience?

TWAIN:  Of course.  Huck grew up just as I did.  Like Huck, in my
schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that
there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my
hearing.  The local papers said nothing against it.  The local
pulpits taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing,
and that the doubter need only look in the Holy scriptures if he
wished to settle his mind.  In our churches, the texts were read
aloud to us to make the matter sure.  If the slaves themselves had
an aversion to slavery, they were wise and said nothing.  I wonder
how they could lie to us so.

WILSON: So the setting of your novel is that of a racist society 
teaching young boys what to think?

TWAIN:  Huck heard what I heard, what every Southern child heard. 
Miss Watson, Aunt Polly, the Widow Douglas, Pap Finn--all of
society, high and low, taught little Huck slavery was as holy as
church-going, combing your hair, and washing behind your ears.

WILSON: Are you defending this community built on slavery, Mr.

TWAIN: No sir--in my book I'm both remembering it and indicting it. 
Remember, slavery was all around, you see, and when something is
all around, it's something beyond your power, certainly beyond the
power of a little boy like I was.  You know, I have no recollection
of ever seeing a slave auction in my little home town.  I'm
suspicious that is because the thing was a common and commonplace
spectacle, not an uncommon and impressive one. I do vividly
remember once seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one
another, lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the
Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever

HOFFMAN: So you admit being a product of a racist society!  There
is no vindication for you, then.  Once a racist, always a racist.

TWAIN: Well my friend, a leopard can change its spots.  I certainly
learned better, and so does Huck.

WILSON:  Was there nothing in your childhood to teach you, or any
other child, that a thing like slavery was wrong?

TWAIN: Well yes, even in slave-holding Hannibal, there was clear
evidence of the evil this monstrous institution brought to us.  I
remember the `nigger trader,' loathed by everybody.  He was
regarded as a sort of human devil who bought and conveyed poor
helpless creatures to hell.  To our whites and blacks alike the
Southern plantation was simply hell.  No milder name could describe

WILSON: Did you portray any character like that in Huckleberry

TWAIN: Oh yes, the lowest of the low,  Huck's own pap, a man who
beat his child, locked him in a cabin, nearly killed him.  Yes, Pap
is racism with its full face showing. 

(Light on stage left)

PAP (Drunkenly staring down at Huck, making occasional swings at
the boy): Call this a government! why, just look at it and see what
it's like. There was a free nigger there, from Ohio, a mulatter,
most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever
see, too, and the shiniest hat. And there ain't a man in that town
that's got as fine clothes as what he had. He had a gold watch and
chain, and a silver-headed cane, the awfulest old gray-headed nabob
in the State. And what do you think? They said he was a professor
in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed
everything. And that ain't the worst. They said he could vote when
he was at home.  Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the
country a-coming to? It was 'lection day, and I was just about to
go and vote, myself, if I warn't too drunk to get there.  But when
they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let
that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote agin. 
Them's the very words I said. They all heard me.  And the country
may rot for all me, I'll never vote agin as long as I live.
       And to see the cool way of that nigger, why, he wouldn't a
give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way. I says to
the people, why ain't this nigger put up at auction and sold.
That's what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why,
they said he couldn't be sold till he'd been in the State six
months, and he hadn't been there that long yet. There, now-- that's
a specimen.  They call that a government that can't sell a free
nigger till he's been in the State six months.  Here's a government
that calls itself a government, and lets on to be a government, and
thinks it is a government, and yet's got to set stock-still for six
whole months before it can take ahold of a prowling, thieving,
infernal, white-shirted nigger! 

(Light off stage right)

HOFFMAN: I call that evidence for the prosecution, your honor. 
That little speech contradicts your little letter to the law
school, doesn't it Mr. Twain?

WILSON:  I object, your honor.  These are the words of a character,
not the personal feelings of my client.  Tell us Mr. Twain, why use
such terrible words in your book?  Why have such a terrible man in
your imagination at all?

TWAIN (shaking his head): Because these were the words we heard.
It's how we were raised.  We heard the words of Pap Finn's, all
twisted and fearful.  And we heard from the Miss Polly's, the Miss
Watson's who'd never touch a drop, never beat a child, never make
such a speech.  

WILSON: You mean even the good, polite society people felt the same
as Pap Finn's?

TWAIN:   To a degree.  It is commonly believed that an infallible
effect of slavery was to make such as lived in its midst hard
hearted like Pap Finn. I think it had no such effect on most of us. 
But still, slavery was the accepted thing, even if the good people
thought it good mannered to treat their property well. 

WILSON: Earlier, Mr. Hoffman said a leopard can't change its spots. 
Can you recall for us when you began realizing these ugly thoughts
were wrong?

TWAIN (Nodding): One incident, in particular, stays in my memory,
clear and sharp, vivid and shadowless.

(Center stage lights up, and young black slave pantomimes to 
Twain's words, singing a rough, unpleasant melody)
TWAIN:  My family had a little slave boy whom we had hired from
some one there in Hannibal. Sandy was from the eastern shore of
Maryland, and had been brought away from his family and his
friends, halfway across the American continent, and sold. He was a
cheery spirit, innocent and gentle, and the noisiest creature that
ever was, perhaps. All day long he  sang, whistled, yelled,
whooped, laughed. Oh my, it was maddening, devastating,
    Well, like a young fool, I complained to my mother.  The tears
rushed to her eyes, her lip trembled, and she said something like

MRS. CLEMENS (standing by Sandy): Oh Sam, for shame. Poor little
thing, when he sings it shows that he is not remembering, and that
comforts me.  But when he is still I am afraid he is thinking, and
I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again.  Can you bear
that thought, Sam?  Can you bear the thought of an innocent child
who will never see his mother again?

(Light dims on center stage)

TWAIN:  Sandy's noise was no trouble to me any more.  I learned
compassion.  All my life After that I saw the madness of slavery in
all of its degrees and was glad to know wonderful, loving black
people including Uncle Daniel, a kind, warm slave who was the basis
for Jim.  I saw the humanity of black souls and the unyielding
ignorance, hypocrisy, and lead-hearted evil of white racists.
WILSON: Can you give us other examples of what touched you
personally about slave life?

TWAIN:  Oh my yes.  Did you know that to be considered black, you
only needed a thimble of black blood in your veins to be damned? 
I wrote about it in 1892 in a book called Puddn'head Wilson.  In
that book, I describe Roxy, a slave-mother, like this:

(Light brightens on Roxy standing center stage)

ROXY:  For all intents and purposes I was as white as anybody. But
the one sixteenth of my blood which was black out voted the other
fifteen parts.  That made me a negro. I was a slave, and salable as
such. My little child was thirty-one parts white, and he, too, was
a slave, and by a fiction of the white man's law and custom a
negro.  That's the way things was.

TWAIN: "Fiction of law and custom."  Words of a racist?  (Looks to
audience)  In Roxy's story, she switches her baby with that of her
master's, and what do you think?  No one could tell the difference.
ROXY:  My massa could only tell the children apart by their
clothes.  His boy wore ruffled soft muslin and a coral necklace. My
boy wore only a coarse tow-linen shirt which barely reached his
knees.  All I had to do was switch the clothes to change those
boys' destinies. I tell you folks, Mother Nature does not breed
inferiority.  Your (pointing to audience) civilization creates
these fictions of law and custom.  Look at me and say I rightfully
should be a slave.  Look at any person and say there goes a slave,
and I tell you, that ain't God's law.  Why couldn't you be good to
me?  Why did I have to lie to save my child?  Because of a bigger
lie, one I didn't have no say so in.

(Light dims center stage)

TWAIN:  I had to learn that, and when I did, I preached against it. 
That's what separates me from the other humorists of my time now
long forgotten.  They didn't preach.  When you write a book to
expose a lie, you have to have a character who learns a lesson.
That's Huck's story, and that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is
the point of my Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!  

WILSON: Perhaps now is the time we should look at the book itself,
and trace the story of Huck and Jim.  How does it all begin, Mr.

(Light up on stage right)

TWAIN:  Let us tell you how Huck changes his spots, scene by
enlightening scene.  It takes a series of tricks.  You remember the
first trick, Huck?

(Light up Right and Center stage where Jim pantomimes Huck's words)

HUCK: Why, of course.  I remember everything, whether it happened
or not.  Me and Tom Sawyer liked to play pranks on Miss Watson's
slave Jim, like hiding his hat in a tree at night when he was
asleep.  We told him ghosts put it there.

JIM:  Ghosts!  Took my hat?  Why, dats just what I dreamed.  I
dreamed witches came for my everlasting soul while I was asleep,
and they took me all round the whole world, and put my hat in the
tree so I'd know it all happened, just like I dreamed.  Oh boys, I
must tell everyone what happened tonight--you stay right here to
back me up when I get back, you hear. (Runs off stage)

HUCK: (laughs) That's just what he done too.  He told all the other
slaves 'bout his adventure, and they all thought he was the center
of the universe and asked him all kinds of questions while me and
Tom Sawyer laughed ourselves silly for a week.  What an old fool he

TWAIN:  What happened with the next trick, Huck?

HUCK:  Well, when we was running away, me and Jim on the raft, I
left a dead snake-skin in Jim's bed and he got bit by the snake's
mate.  He got sick for four days and I was sorry I done it.  It
weren't a simple joke like the hat trick.  But I never confessed up
to it.  No one's sorry for what happens to a slave.

TWAIN: When did you start to change your mind about that, Huck?

HUCK: I got to learnin' about him, of course.  I began to know
slaves got feelings too.  Once, Jim sat on the edge of the raft
just a busting and abawling and crying to bring on the flood.  I
asked him why, and he says . . .

JIM:  I wuz thinking 'bout my little daughter back home and how I
might not ever see her again.  I was remembering that awful time
when I busted her upside the head, just like I thought a daddy
should do. I kept telling her and telling her to shut the door and
she wouldn't do it.  Wouldn't listen.  I busted her on the head,
and oh Huck, I found out something I never knew.  She was stone
deaf and couldn't help it.  I never felt so bad in my life.

HUCK:  It didn't seem natural a slave could care for his children,
but I reckon they do after all.  I was learnin' from Jim that what
I thought was so wasn't so at all.

TWAIN (to audience): If you listen carefully, you'll hear the
sounds of leopard's spots melting.  A boy thinks he can play
tricks--a man knows that is wrong.   Step by step, a boy becomes a
man.  What other changes came your way, Huckleberry Finn?

HUCK:  A lot changed.  On the raft one night, I was off in the
canoe and me and Jim got separated. I was lost all night in the
fog.  When I finally got back to the raft, Jim was asleep, and I
curled up like nothing had happened.  When he woke up, he was so
glad to see me, but I was mean.  Jim, I says, what are you going on
about?  I wasn't gone anywhere.

JIM: How you talk, Huck Finn!  I knows you was lost in the fog and
I was so scared I lost you!  Don't fun me, Huck Finn, cause I'm too
glad to see you.

HUCK:   But Jim, I never left this raft. I been sleeping like a
worn out babe. You musta been dreaming.

JIM:  That was a powerful dream, then, Huck.  Oh it musta been full
of signs and omens.  I bet the storm met bad times are acomin', and
that you and me will loose each other down the river.  When I loose
you, Huck, that's when all the bad luck gonna hit me, hit me bad. 

HUCK:  That's some powerful interpreting, Jim.  What about these
other signs?  What mean these leaves and tree limbs and rubbish all
over this raft? Sure looks like stuff left by a powerful storm.
(Laughs)  See that smashed oar over there?  What does that mean,
unless, it were just a dream?  Was it a dream or wuz it real?

JIM: (Looks at the raft, then at Huck, and back to the raft) What
do dey stand for? I's going to tell you. When I got all wore out
with worry, callin' for you,  and went to sleep, my heart wuz most
broke because you wuz lost.  When I wake up and find you back agin,
all safe and sound, tears come and I could have got down on my
knees and kissed your foot I'm so thankful. And all you wuz
thinkin' about wuz how you could make a fool out of ole Jim with a
lie. That truck there is trash, and trash is what people is that
puts dirt on the head of their friends and makes them ashamed. (Jim
goes into tent)

HUCK:  Take that back, Jim, I didn't mean nothing by it! (Pause. 
Huck speaks to audience)  Oh, that made me feel so mean I could
almost have kissed his foot to get him to take it back. But he's
right.  (Paces and Pauses)  I got no choice. I gots to humble
myself and apologize to a nigger.  And I won't be ever sorry for it
afterwards, neither. And I won't do him no more mean tricks. I 
wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that

(Light dims stage left)

WILSON: If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,
Huck just took a major leap. 

TWAIN: He has a long ways to go, of course. Remember, it's one
thing to know a man while you're all alone on a raft floating down
the wide Mississippi by yourselves.  But Huck's whole life has been
teaching him Jim is property.  There's no place he can set ashore
without knowing, in the eyes of his world, what he's doing is
wrong, sinful, immoral.  Against God's own law.

WILSON:  That's a hell of a thing for a young boy. He thinks he's
fighting God.

(Light up stage left)

HUCK:  We got close to Cairo, where Jim could go north and be free. 
And you know what he starts saying?

JIM: Oh Huck-chile, it makes me all over trembley and feverish to
be so close to freedom.  We are almost there Huck, we is almost

HUCK: Whoo-boy, it made me all over trembly and feverish, too to
hear him. I begun to get it through my head that he really was most
free.  And who was to blame for it? Why, me.  I kept seeing Tom Sawyer's face, cause he was a boy who knew how to do right, and I
could hear him like my own conscience.

TOM: Huckleberry Finn, who made you into a low-down abolitionist? 
If I was you, I couldn't get that out of my conscience, no how nor
no way. I couldn't rest, being a lowdown thief like you. I couldn't
stay still in one place. Huckleberry Finn, what are you doing
helping that slave get free?

HUCK:  You're right, what is this thing I'm doing? It's coming home
to me, and it is scorching me like one of Pap's whippings.  (To
Tom)  But see here, let up on me!  I ain't to blame! I didn't run
Jim off from his rightful owner and you knows that!

TOM: No use trying that.  You knowed Jim was running for his
freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody. 

HUCK:  I can't get round that, sure enough.  But wait now. You know
I was runnin' away too.  I couldn't go back.  Besides, I don't owe
Miss Watson a dad-blamed thing.

TOM:  How you talk!  What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that
you can see her property go off right under your eyes and never say
one single word?  What did that poor old woman do to you, that you
could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your books. 
She tried to learn you your manners.  She tried to be good to you
every way she knowed how. That's what she done, and look how you
repays her.

(Huck stands up and paces)

HUCK:  Oh Lord, I'm feeling so mean and so miserable I most wish I
was dead.

(Huck and Jim pace back and forth, fidgeting and looking around

TOM: Look at you Huck Finn, fidgeting up and down that raft.
Keep still, Huck Finn!

HUCK: But look at Jim there, as excited as a new born.  Jim, can't
you settle down a minute?

JIM: But Huck honey, there's Cairo!  I'm free, Huck, free at last!

TOM: You hear that, lowdown Huck Finn?  If that don't go through
you like a shot, you ain't white no more.  If that's Cairo, why if
it was me, I reckon I would die of miserableness.

JIM: Oh, Huck, the first thing I'm gonna do when I get to a free
State is save up money and never spend a single cent till I got
enough to buy my wife and children. If their master won't sell
them, we'll get an Abolitionist to go and steal them!  Won't that
be grand!
TOM: You hear that, Huckleberry Finn?  Don't it freeze your
immortal soul?  Jim wouldn't ever dared to talk such talk in his
life before.  Just see what a difference it makes in him the minute
he judges he's about free. You've heard it a hundred times, Huck
Finn, "give a nigger an inch and he'll take a mile."  This is what
comes of your not thinking.  Here's this slave which you are as
good as helping run away, and what does he say?  He comes right out
flat-footed and says he will steal his children.  Children that
belong to a man you don't even know.  A man that ain't ever done
you no harm.  Where's your morals, Huckleberry Finn?

HUCK:  Let up on me, I say! It ain't too late, yet. I'll paddle
ashore and tell.  Will that settle you down?  (pause)

(Light fades on Tom)

HUCK: Well, I do feel easier now. and happy, and light as a
feather, right off.  All my troubles is gone. 

(Huck and Jim act out next scene)

HUCK: Jim, I'm going to take the canoe ashore to see what's what.

JIM: Let me get it ready for you.  Here, I'm puttin' in my old coat
in the bottom for you to set on.  Here's your paddle, and don't you
get lost! (Huck shoves off)  Pretty soon I'll be a-shoutin' for
joy, and I'll say, it's all on accounts of Huckleberry Finn!  I'm
a free man, and I couldn't ever ben free if it hadn't ben for Huck! 
Huck done it. Jim won't ever forget you, Huck.  You're the best
fren' Jim's ever had, and you's the only fren' ole Jim's got now.

HUCK:  You hear that? And here I am, paddling off, all in a sweat
to tell on him. But when he says that, it takes the tuck all out of

(Tom appears in light)

TOM:  So there you go, all uncertain whether to do right or not
again. You don't seem to know whether to be glad you started or
not.  What's wrong with you, Huck Finn?

JIM: Der you goes, the ole true Huck! The only white gentleman that
ever kept his promise to ole Jim.

TOM: Don't you go feelin' all sick on me, now. You got to do it.
You can't get out of it.  See there, right over there, there comes
a skiff with two men in it, with guns.  They're fixin' to stop.
Now's your chance.

MAN (calling from backstage): What's that, up yonder on the river,

HUCK: Just a piece of raft.

MAN: Any men on it?

HUCK:  Only one, sir.

MAN: Well, there's five niggers run off to-night, up yonder above
the head of the bend. Is your man white or black?

TOM: You're not answering up prompt. The words won't come?  Brace
up and out with it!  Ain't you man enough?  Haven't you the spunk
of a rabbit? 

HUCK:  Oh get off me, I  give up trying.  You know what I'm going
to say?  (pause, then Huck yells) The man on my raft, mister, he's
white!  He's my pa.

(Long pause as Huck walks back across stage and sits)

HUCK: I got 'board the raft, feelin' bad and low. I knowed I'd done
wrong.  It warn't no use for me to try to learn to do right.  If
you don't get started right when you're little, you ain't got no show.   When the pinch comes there ain't nothing to back you up and
keep you to your work.

TOM:  Hold on a second, Huck.  Suppose you'd a done right and give
Jim up.  Would you feel better?

HUCK:  No, I'd feel just as bad as I do now.

TOM:  Well, then, what's the use you learning to do right, when
it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong? The
wages is just the same.

HUCK: You sure are a meddlesome, confusing conscience. I can't
answer your questions. So I won't bother no more about it. I'll
just always do whichever comes handiest at the time.

(Light dims center stage)

WILSON: There's no trap like the war between the heart and society,
is there? 

TWAIN:  All the good Christians and Pap Finn too taught Huck well--
that a fiction of law and custom must be right and what you're
heart tells you must be bad.  That old moral conscience had him in
a bind.  But it didn't let up on him, not by a long shot. 

WILSON: Knowing Mr. Hoffman will object, it seems important to
point out that in this section of the book, little Huck learns a
lot about Southern society not directly related to race, doesn't he
Mr. Twain?

TWAIN:  Well, remember my book is an indictment of all Southern
society, and slavery was just one manifestation I was attacking. 
It irritated a lot of my brethren Southerners, you know.   Read the
book--Huck gets to see Southern chivalry and hospitality first-
hand.  He witnesses a gun-toting feud killing a boy just his age
over nothing but over-glamorized false honor.  He gets to see a
cold-blooded murder and then a lynch mob chased away by the killer
who calls them all cowards--and he's right.  Huck and Jim are
joined by two con artists called the King and Duke who fleece the
religious, the prudent, the foolish and the gullible.  He gets to
see the average of man and through it all has but one friend.  So
when, behind his back, the King and Duke sell Jim, Huck finally has
to face his dilemma, once and for all.  Should he do right.  Or
wrong?  Now that he knows the best of Southern society is a
bloodthirsty sham, you'd think it would be easy for him.  Well, not
for a boy with a torn soul.  There he sits all alone on the raft,
Jim chained in a shed worse off than when they began.  What should
he do, ladies and gentlemen of the jury?

HUCK: I knowed it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a
slave at home where his family was, as long as he's got to be a
slave.  So I'd better write a letter to Miss Watson telling her
where he was.
(Light up center stage on Tom)

TOM: Huck, I wouldn't do that.  She'd be mad and disgusted at Jim's
rascality and ungratefulness for leaving her.  She'd sell him
straight down the river again.  And if she didn't, everybody
naturally despises an ungrateful nigger.  They'd make Jim feel it
all the time, and so he'd feel ornery and disgraced.

HUCK: And then think of me! It would get all around, that Huck Finn
helped a nigger to get his freedom.  If I was to ever see anybody
from that town again, I'd be ready to get down and lick his boots
for shame.

TOM: That's just the way. A person does a low-down thing, and then
he don't want to take no consequences for it.  As long as you can
hide it, it ain't no disgrace.

HUCK: That's my fix exactly.  My conscience keeps grinding me, and
the more wicked and low-down and ornery I felt.  Then it hit me. 

TOM: Huckleberry Finn, the hand of God is slapping you in the face
to let you know your wickedness is being watched all the time while
you is stealing a poor old woman's property.  God will damn you to
hell for this, Huckleberry Finn!  You will go straight to hell!

HUCK: But God, you knows I was brung up wicked! I ain't so much to

TOM: You coulda gone to Sunday school and learnt that people that
acts like you about other people's property goes to everlasting

HUCK:  Well, I will pray now and quit being the kind of boy I was
brought up like. (Huck kneels and holds his hands to pray)  No
words is coming. Why won't they?

TOM: Because you can't hide nothin' from God. Nor from your wicked
self, neither. You know why the words won't come. Your heart ain't
right. You ain't square. You're playing double. You're letting on
to give up sin, but you're holdin' on to the biggest one of all.
You're tryin' to make your mouth say you will do the right thing
and go and write to Miss Watson. But deep down you knows it's a
lie-and God knows it too. You can't pray a lie.

HUCK: But see here, I gots an idea.  I'll write the letter and then
see if I can pray. Why, I feel light as a feather, straight off. 
Here's paper and a pencil, and I'm all glad and excited. Let's see,
(reads letter)

          Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile
          below Picksville and Mr. Phillips has got him and he will
          give him up for the reward if you send it. HUCK FINN

     I feel all washed clean of sin, the first time I felt so ever
in my life. I knows I can pray now.  (Long pause)

TOM: Are you just going to sit there thinking how close you come to
being lost and sent to hell?  Think about this, Huck Finn.  See in
your mind Jim's face. I bet you can see Jim before you in the day,
night, moonlight, storms, floating along, talking, singing and
laughing. I bet you can't strike no places to harden yourself
against him. Can you see him standing your watch on top of his,
instead of calling you, so you could go on sleeping.  I see him
too, how glad he was when you come back out of the fog.  How he
tried to help you every way he could and how good he always was. He
was always so grateful, saying how ole Huck was the best friend old
Jim ever had in the world.  The only one he's got now.  Now look at
that paper again.

(Huck stands)

HUCK: It is such a close place. I'm looking at my letter, and I
knows what it means. I got to decide, forever, betwixt two things. 
I knows my immortal soul is on the line, finally for sure.

(Long pause, then Huck shouts and tears up paper)
   All right, then, I'll go to hell!  (long pause)

(Tom disappears)

HUCK: They is awful thoughts, and awful words, but they is said.
And I will let them stay said.  I will never think no more about
reforming. I hereby shove the whole thing out of my head.  I will
take up wickedness again, which is in my line, being brung up to
it, and the other warn't. And for a starter, I will go to work and
steal Jim out of slavery again. And if I can think up anything
worse, I will do that too.

TWAIN: Irony of ironies, eh?  You, I, and this modern jury know
Huck did the right thing.  But because he believes in a fiction of
law and custom and the word of the holy church, he's willing to
send his immortal soul to hell rather than turn his friend in. 
He's come a long way, wouldn't you say, Mr. Hoffman?   He's willing
to sacrifice himself for a man he once saw only as a butt of jokes.

HOFFMAN (stands): Well, Mr. Twain, that moment of glory didn't
stick very long.  Just a few pages later, a lady asked your new
convert about a steamboat explosion, asked if anyone was hurt. 
Huck says "No mam, killed a nigger."  She says, "That's lucky, sometimes people get hurt."  Why would your little saint say that,
Mr. Twain?

HUCK (yelling across the stage):  What in the name of fantods else
WOULD I say deep in the heart of Southern plantations?  I was
pretending, just like I pretended all through my book.  I pretended
to be a girl, I pretended to be from England.  (Aside to audience) 
Both Badly.  (Speaking to Hoffman)  Heck, I pretended to be dead. 
I was about to pretend to be Tom Sawyer--what would he say?  
Shoot, Mr. Hoffman, Jim's not the liar in my book--I'm the king of
liars.   When you're running and hiding out from the law like me
and Jim done, you say what people want to hear.  

HOFFMAN: Well, that doesn't change the fact that from the moment
Huck makes his little speech, for the rest of the book, Jim becomes
the butt of Tom Sawyer's jokes all over again.  And Tom knows Jim
has already been freed.  It's cruel, mean spirited, a total failure
in your stated purposes, Mr. Twain.

TWAIN: It's true.  All along, because of Miss Watson's will, Jim
was a free man trapped in a shed, chained to a bed, with Tom and
Huck doing all those childish things to him.  Just like the whole
south did to every black man and woman trapped in a fiction of law,
Southern culture, and the unfeeling racism of a Tom Sawyer who was
the epitome of Southern boyhood. Jim's dilemma epitomized all
slaves everywhere, unjustly incarcerated, treated like children,
forced to endure the whim and will of white lies.  Even after
emancipation, the captivity was artificially carried on for
decades. Can you not see the symbolism here, Mr. Hoffman?

HOFFMAN:  Say what you will, Mr. Twain, no black child needs to see
that happen in the past, present, or on reading lists in the public
school, especially since it seems so much explanation is needed to
understand your points.  No white man can understand this--there is
no way any black American can think of the past without feeling
shame and degradation, and these feelings cannot be pushed aside on
the alter of supposedly great literature.

WILSON:  We're back to that admittedly poignant point again, where
this trial began.  You're still saying we should forget the past?
So slavery times didn't happen?  Young people today should not see
the face of the past, should forget what their ancestors ultimately
triumphed over?  There is no way to know how far you've come if you
don't know where you started.  And we whites, you know, need to
know the shame of it all too.  It's all ugly truth, and the truth
is why we're here. 

HOFFMAN:  Again you miss the point. The slave Jim started out as a
butt of childish jokes all the way down the river, and Twain spends
chapter after chapter after Huck's supposed conversion playing more
tricks on him.  You think I want my child to feel like that?  Nothing has changed, nothing will change until we preach that is
wrong, evil, outside the realm of simple humanity.

TWAIN:  And that is the point, the very heart of the point! 
There's too much sad truth to your words, Mr. Hoffman.  When the
war to free your people ended, battlefields were filled with graves
of those vowing to keep slavery alive and those--those most
forgotten graves--filled with those who died to truly make men holy
and free.  And still, so little changed.  I am sorry to the bone
this is true, sorry I could not change it, sorry it was so.  I
exposed the truth to the people of my time and your people too.  I
am sorry for the pain, sorrier that it continues over a century
later.  That's for you (pointing to audience) to face.  You cannot
hide a truth by banning its messenger.  You can't change the
weather by shooting the weatherman.  There is no blindness worse
than the self-inflicted wounds of ignorance.  You can't whitewash
a lie.  And you can't censor the truth, hard as you try.

HOFFMAN:  Nice speech. Why isn't it in your book?

WILSON: (coughs) Allow me to refer to the book in question for one
last piece of evidence.   Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you may
remember, as the story closes on Huckleberry Finn, he, Tom Sawyer,
and Jim attempt a futile escape under the hail of bullets.

(Light up center stage. Huck, Tom, and Jim run center stage, Tom
crying out and falling.)

TOM: I'm hit, I'm hit in the leg!  You two keep going, it's your
last chance!

JIM (Leaning over Tom):  Oh no massa Tom, I can't run with you like
this.  Huck chile, run back and fetch a doctor.  I'll wait here and
watch after Tom. (Huck runs offstage)

TOM:  Don't sacrifice yourself for me, Jim.  After all I've put you
through, you shouldn't loose your freedom for me.

JIM: I can't run with your life in danger, Tom Sawyer.  A young
man's life is worth more than one man's freedom. 

(Light darkens over Tom and Jim)

WILSON:  You see that, Mr. Hoffman?  When the doctor attends to
Tom, he praises Jim for his nobility, his sacrifice, his humanity. 
At book's end, Jim is portrayed not as a superstitious liar but a
man who forgives his tormentors and rises above the fiction of law
and custom that denied believing in his dignity, his heart, his
unquestioned nobility. He is no comic minstrel show stick figure,
ladies and gentlemen, he is a self-sacrificing man of flesh and
blood with as giant a heart as any man in literature. I only hope
you too can see the worth of a slave filled with love and honor
and, yes, dignity in the face of unnatural torments.  See past the
old dialect, see past the offensive words, and see what Huck and
Jim are in their heart of hearts.  The foolishness around Jim was
not of his making.  His final thoughts, you may recall, were to
free his family.  But you know history.  It would take many, many
years for his family to see the promised land.  Mark Twain couldn't
change that.  He could only hold up the mirror and show us who we
were. And are.

(Hoffman moves center stage)

Hoffman: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, despite the seemingly
noble words you've just heard, let's cut through the rhetoric and
talk about facts.   First of all, of course we have to deal with
the past, and slavery cannot be forgotten.  But there are better
ways to tell our children about it.  I personally recommend a book
by a neighbor of Mr. Twain's for many years, by which I mean
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  In it, the nobility of
black men and women is obvious, dramatic, and touching.  In it, we
see slavery and slave owners in all degrees, and Mrs. Stowe's
purpose is very clear and plain--racism is wrong, slavery is wrong,
and Abraham Lincoln himself  said the book helped start the war to
make men free.  Or read Frederick Douglass's Narrative of a Life
which tells the truth about slavery from a black man's eloquent
point of view.  There are clear differences between these books and
this thing called Huckleberry Finn.  The ugly words in it contain
power, ladies and gentlemen, and no excuses of realism should
diminish that point.  And, despite Mr. Twain's explanations for his
work, it's subject to many other interpretations.  I say its racist
trash, painful, demeaning, and no child in our schools needs to be
exposed to it.  Why teach a book that takes so much explanation to
insure you get the points?  We have better literature, so let's
read that instead. 

(Hoffman returns to his seat as Twain leaves witness box and stands
stage front).

TWAIN:  If I may say a few closing remarks on my own behalf, I'd
like to agree with Mr. Hoffman, on one point.  Read Uncle Tom's
Cabin, read Frederick Douglass.  They are powerful writers and if
their message is plainer and more instructive, by all means read
them.  Teach them instead of me.  I'm not getting any more
royalties anyway.  
     I must leave my book in your hands and say ban it, burn it, or
read it.  Read it with wonder or indignation or fear or loathing or
illumination.  Make up your own mind, and don't be a camp follower
whatever you do.   Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a
chain or freed a  human soul, and if little Huck teaches you
anything, it's to question authority.   (pauses)  Even mine. 
Whatever you make of any book, make up your own mind.  And be free
enough to change it later down the road.   
    I once said only dead men can tell the truth, and I could only
speak the truth of my times.  But it seems to me, if Chaucer and
Milton still have meaning, so does little Huck.  If a society can
tolerate and advocate slavery with little question, isn't there a
lesson about what you too will accept?  How many of you must
grapple with the values you were taught and what your soul tells
you is different?  Yes, my book is painful.  Truth is, you know. 
Physically brave people can be found by the truckloads, but morally
brave men, and women, ah, there's but one in a thousand.  And
that's what my book is about too.  Slavery was a cart to teach that
lesson by, but there's much, much more going on than that. If I
have one request of you, read this fearful book as a human being
and not as a member of any smaller group.  It's bad enough to be
human without trying to subdivide our lot.
     And take this vagrant thought with you.  My book has been said
to carry the gift of laughter.  Ah, against the force of laughter,
nothing can stand.   Embrace the laughter and remember what mothers
everywhere used to teach their children--sticks and stones may
break my bones, but words will never, never harm me.  They can,
however, perform the opposite service.

HUCK (standing beside Jim): There ain't nothing more to write
about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a
trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it and ain't
going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory
because Aunt Sally, she's going to adopt me and civilize me and I
can't stand it. I been there before. (Huck and Jim walk center
stage, join Twain, and leave together, lights dimming.)

The End