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"It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race." (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
"It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race."

Now, if you're in the Classic Literature section of the forums, you probably know where that quote is from. But just in case you don't, it's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, if you didn't at least vaguely recognize the quote, I doubt you'll have much to contribute to this discussion.

Well, a few of you might know that I'm working on a major literary criticism assignment for Huck Finn. The assignment requires me to read a few criticisms myself (always a good course of action, anyway) and I've noticed a lot of disagreements between critics. But this one really baffles me, because I'm not at all sure who is right.

If you recall, Huck says the above quote at the end of Chapter 24, when the Duke and King are pretending to be the brothers of recently deceased Peter Wilks. When I read the book, I just assumed that Huck was referring to the actions of the King and the Duke. I daresay witnessing a couple of good-for-nothing's deceive and deprive a group of grieving people would make me ashamed of the human race. But one critic I read had a different idea. Roger Moore says:
Watching the King and Duke "work" small-town crowds, Huck is more offended by the credulity of the dupes than by the duplicity of the con artists. As the mountebanks pull the wool over the family and neighbors of the late Peter Wilks, it is the responses of the victims, their slavish willingness to believe, that Huck finds disconcerting, declaring that, "it was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race."

Now I personally don't know where Moore got that idea, though I suppose it could have gone either way. By saying "it", Huck doesn't really specify which part makes him sick. Here's the paragraph it was stated in:
Well, the men gathered around and sympathized with them, and said all sorts of kind things to them, and carried their carpetbags up the hill for them, and let them lean on them and cry, and told the kind all about his brother's last moments, and the king he told it all over again on his hands to the duke, and both of them took on about that dead tanner like they'd lost the twelve disciples. Well, if I ever struck anything like it, I'm a nigger. It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.

Looking at that, I suppose Huck could have been referring to the Duke and King's behavior, or the gullibility of the townspeople, or he could really have been referring to both.

What do you think?

Mike C

WF Veterans
As you say, could go either way. Both sets of behaviour are shameful. Maybe to get to the root, you need to forget the section of the book and examine the opinions of the author himslf - what would he find most shameful, the hucksters or the gullible? I would suspect the latter.


Senior Member
Well, Huck was friends with Tom, who got people to recompense him for the priviledge of painting a fence. I don't recall Huck lecturing Tom on that issue. To my mind, Huck Finn wasn't a moralist; so I do think the latter is more plausible, (edit[noparse]:)[/noparse] or, on second thought, not "more" plausible, but more "prominent" in his shame.
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There's a new book out called "Finn" by Jon Clinch. It tells the story of Huck Finn's dad, if you're interested.

I've read a few of these "before they were famous" character novels, from "Wide Saragasso Sea" to "Wicked", a good range :)

I think I'll check it out.

Kid Ickirus

ms. kkk,

huck is talking about the ordeal as a whole, in my opinion. the king and duke are a sorry pair for tricking the betroved, and the betroved are a sorry group for taking the king and duke to be earnest. the entire human race cannot be 'sorry' in only one way. there are those who choose the life of dissillusions and dishonesties, and there are those who are to ignorant to choose otherwise.

Winged Sandals

Senior Member
Hey, what a coincidence. I just got (almost) done reading that book. Wrote up an index card about that quote and everything.

When I read that line, my mind assumed that Huck was referring to the Duke and Dauphin, but now I'm not quite as sure. I would probably explore both possibilities in that assignment of yours.


I agree with Mike C, it could go either way, but it would be more in character for Huck to be ashamed of the gullible.

Makes me want to read the book again to see if Twain doesn't clarify this through characterization somewhere else.