Judge Thatcher – saint or sinner?

Noticing that there are many new readers of this blog in the USA, I am asking for help with something which bothers me.

Judge Thatcher in Huckleberry Finn is often referred to in notes and study material as helping Huck, and being one of the honest good guys (as it were). But this troubles me.

In Chapter 4 Huck goes to the Judge to hand over his fortune in order to prevent it falling into Pap’s hands. The Judge seems confused and eventually agrees to buy the fortune ‘for a consideration:

He looked surprised.  He couldn’t seem to make it out.  He says:

“Why, what can you mean, my boy?”

I says, “Don’t you ask me no questions about it, please.  You’ll take it—won’t you?”

He says:

“Well, I’m puzzled.  Is something the matter?”

“Please take it,” says I, “and don’t ask me nothing—then I won’t have to tell no lies.”

He studied a while, and then he says:

“Oho-o!  I think I see.  You want to sell all your property to me—not give it.  That’s the correct idea.”

Then he wrote something on a paper and read it over, and says:

“There; you see it says ‘for a consideration.’  That means I have bought it of you and paid you for it.  Here’s a dollar for you.  Now you sign it.”

So I signed it, and left.’

What I do not understand is the need for the purchase and what this makes the judge in the eyes of the reader. Surely he could have taken the fortune and kept it and been bound not to hand it over. Instead he buys it for 1 dollar – my issue is that this is fraudulent dealing -for the cost of a single week’s interest he now has ownership of a vast wealth and need not return it to Huck at any point in the future. He  writes a legal document to enshrine the deal which Huck does not read. Huck rejects his wealth and with it his ticket to the new society replacing the frontier (itself degenerate and personified in Pap) and moves on in an idealised reverie to act as our guide to the ‘sham chivalries’ of the South.

What do we make of the Judge’s hesitation and ejaculation ‘oho-o’? To me this is the click when he realizes he can dupe Huck, take the wealth and escape criticism – all is above board and legal.  Huck has his wish – to get rid of the money to protect it from Pap, but he has lost it for ever, as surely as if Pap had drunk the whole lot and pissed it into the Mississippi.

For me, Thatcher represents and acquisitive new morality. One which hides behind the Law in the same way that Miss Watson hides behind the scriptures. This is the new civilised society – one in which even the law can be used to disenfranchise and to help the powerful gain wealth and retain their power.

It should not surprise us in Chapter 8 to see Pap and Judge Thatcher placed at the head of the list of searchers on the boat. They are linked by their desire to lay hands on the money – and by a mutual concern for the rightful owner  – Pap hoping to still get rich and Judge knowing that Huck’s death will make him secure on his new fortune for ever.


Can anyone tell me anything to alter this perspective regarding the Judge?