English 11 CP – 5
The Conmen’s Game
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.” In essence, true character is skin deep and based on an individual’s actions. In the novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, the Duke and the King are two flat characters that have a one track mind based on bad intentions. To begin, the duke and the king are a pair of conmen that are running from a mob of people that they have swindled. They encounter the protagonist, Huck Finn, and are carried away on a raft. The Duke and the King are the drollest people in the novel, the most despicable and the most fraudulent. Firstly, the two conmen tell lies and fibs for their own benefit. For example, as soon as the two men meet Huck Finn and Jim on their raft on the Mississippi they lie about their names, the Duke says, “I am the rightful Duke of Bridgewater; and here am I, forlorn, torn from my high estate, hunted of men, despised by the cold world, ragged, worn, heart-broken, and degraded to the companionship of felons on a raft” (124). Likewise the king says, “Yes, gentlemen, you see before you, in blue jeans and misery, the wanderin’, exiled, trampled-on, and sufferin’ rightful King of France” (125). The conmen are using fake names to make their reputation look good. First of all, conmen are infamously known for adopting multiple aliases. Secondly, it is unknown if these two men are, in fact, descendants from such prestigious families. In addition, men born with such titles should be civilized and educated, following a path to greater success not a path leading to swindling in the southern states. If some things sound too-good-to-be-true, then they probably are. Equally important, as the religious revival meeting is happening in the woods, Huck explains about the Duke, “He told them he was a pirate – been a pirate for thirty years, out in the Indian Ocean, his crew was thinned out” (133). This adds on to the fact that conmen use many aliases for their scams. If the Duke uses this sob story to tell to the people, he may possibly get pity-donations. The men’s lies make them look good for reputation and bad for pity from others, a total self benefit. In addition, the men attempt to execute many scams because they are greedy. First, as the conmen realize that their Shakespeare play would not work out, they decide to advertise a show which Huck Finn describes as, “THE ROYAL NONESUCH!!! Admission 50 cents. LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED” (152). The show is a short performance of the King on all fours, naked and colored from head to toe. In the first place, the two con artists know that their show is inappropriate. Moreover, they pay no attention to the opinions of their customers. This is completely inconsiderate and ill-natured, but it is a good idea in the eyes of the conmen. Furthermore, the men arrive at another town and pretend to be two long lost brothers of a deceased rich man named Peter Wilks, Huck Finn describes what the conmen will get from this pawn, “The tanyard, along with some other houses and land (worth about seven thousand), and thee thousand dollars in gold” (167).To begin, it is extremely disrespectful of these men to pose as some stranger’s kin and steal from his family. Also, they have no right whatsoever to do such a thing, but they choose to do it anyway. On the whole, these men have no shame or respect for any person, including themselves. For another thing, the Duke and the King have little respect for Huck and Jim, the two people who helped these men run away. For example, after the conmen perform “The Royal Nonesuch” again at the village of Pikesville, Huck Finn says, “The Duke he fretted and sweated around and was in a mighty sour way. He scolded us for everything, and we couldn’t seem to do nothing right; he found fault in every little thing. Something was a-brewing, sure” (211). First of all, the Duke was initially a good natured man when he encountered Huck and Jim. Next, his attitude is focused on scolding the two for every little thing. He is now looking differently toward Huck and Jim. Overall, He may not trust Huck or Jim anymore. Furthermore, as the Duke is explaining his plan to sell Jim as a slave, Huck fin says, “You see, he started to tell the truth; but when he stopped, that way, and begun to study and think again, I reckoned he was changing his mind. And so he was. He wouldn’t trust me; he wanted to make sure of having me out of the way the whole three says” (218). To begin, Huck quickly realizes the men are frauds, but he & Jim remain at their mercy, as Huck is only a child and Jim is a runaway slave. Also, the Duke and King are really no different than the people they try to con. In addition, they are filled with the same carelessness for humanity and racial attitudes of the time. They are in fact worse because they seem friendly with Jim until they find the need to sell him. That being said, this is very immoral of the two conmen. All in all, they show no respect for the two people who helped them at first because they look at Huck and Jim as minorities. On the whole, the Duke and the King are two lying, scamming and disrespecting men. In fact, they both have selfish intentions and little shame for the awful things they do. Yes, it is arguable that activity such as theirs is done for a reason. Although, where are the boundaries drawn? These two men do not live with honor or a moral code, let alone boundaries. Sophocles once stated, "Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud."