In the sections prior to the meeting with the Duke and the Dauphin, specifically the conflict of Chapters 18 and 19, the story is taken to a backwoods war zone–the first family being the Grangerfords, and the second the Shepardsons; and who is stuck in the middle but poor Huckleberry Finn, who of course lands with the Grangerfords.
To start off there is a hint of the critical theory Structuralism and Semiotics in these chapters; it should be an obvious one–simply put, the American Civil War, which occurred several years before Mark Twain published his novel, but is nonetheless referenced covertly; as well a certain romantic tragedy penned by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.
The Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons are two feudal families killing off each member of the opposite clan, described by the Grangerford boy, Buck, as a feud, describing it to Huck–“…a feud is this way …man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him;…[the] other man’s brother kills him…and by-and-by everybody’s killed off…there ain’t no more feud…”(Twain. 110). In the case of allegorical references this feud in the backwoods reflects the durational nature of the Civil War between the North and the South; then there is also the secretive romance to consider.
Love springs between two members of either family–Sophia Grangerford and Harney Sheperdson–in a manner that is kept under wraps until Huck delivers a secret note to Miss Sophia; one can notice a similar approach to the taboo romance in Romeo and Juliet, as either family comes from separate lifestyles and are judgmental of outsiders to their customs. Countering the ending of the play, however, in the novel the lovers live through their escape; and a bewildered Huck is informed by a black servant of their travels: “…run off to git married to dat young Harney Sheperdson…so dey spec’.”( Twain. 116).
As far the reader is concerned the lovers break free of their authoritarian families, which is as well the summation of Romeo and Juliet, seeing as how those lovers escape from the strictness of the living world into the realm of the peaceful dead.
To touch lastly on the feudal relationship between the families, much can be said about its parallel patterning to the Civil War–the warring families are silhouettes of the armies of the North and the South, and Colonel Grangerford is an imitation of President Lincoln, seen by his description: “[He]…was very tall and slim…and…had the thinnest kind of lips[;]…his forehead was high…” (Twain. 108). Obviously the Grangerfords represent the North; the Sheperdsons the South.