Summary: Chapter 2

Huck and Tom tiptoe through the Widow’s garden. Huck trips on a root as he passes by the kitchen, and Jim, one of Miss Watson’s slaves, hears him from inside. Tom and Huck crouch down and try to stay still, but Huck is struck by a series of uncontrollable itches, as often happens when he is in a situation “where it won’t do for you to scratch.” Jim says aloud that he will stay put until he discovers the source of the sound, but after several minutes, he falls asleep. Tom wants to tie Jim up, but the more practical Huck objects, so Tom settles for simply playing a trick by putting Jim’s hat on a tree branch over Jim’s head. Tom also takes candles from the kitchen, despite Huck’s objections that they will risk getting caught.

Huck tells us that afterward, Jim tells everyone that some witches flew him around and put the hat atop his head. Jim expands the tale further, becoming a local celebrity among the slaves, who enjoy witch stories. Around his neck, Jim wears the five-cent piece Tom left for the candles, calling it a charm from the devil with the power to cure sickness. Huck notes somewhat sarcastically that Jim nearly becomes so “stuck up” from his newfound celebrity that he is unfit to be a servant.

Meanwhile, Tom and Huck meet up with a few other boys and take a boat to a large cave. There, Tom names his new band of robbers “Tom Sawyer’s Gang.” All must sign an oath in blood, vowing, among other things, to kill the family of any member who reveals the gang’s secrets. The boys think it “a real beautiful oath,” and Tom admits that he got part of it from books that he has read. The boys nearly disqualify Huck because he has no family aside from a drunken father who can never be found, but Huck appeases the boys by offering Miss Watson. Tom says the gang must capture and ransom people, although none of the boys knows what “ransom” means. Tom assumes it means to keep them captive until they die. In response to one boy’s question, Tom tells the group that women are not to be killed but should be kept at the hideout, where the boys’ manners will charm the women into falling in love with the boys. When one boy begins to cry out of homesickness and threatens to tell the group’s secrets, Tom bribes him with five cents. They agree to meet again someday, but not on a Sunday, because that would be blasphemous. Huck makes it home and gets into bed just before dawn.

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Summary: Chapter 3

After punishing Huck for dirtying his new clothes during his night out with Tom, Miss Watson tries to explain prayer to him. Huck gives up on it after some of his prayers are not answered. Miss Watson calls him a fool, and the Widow Douglas later explains that prayer bestows spiritual gifts, such as acting selflessly to help others. Huck, who cannot see any advantage in such gifts, resolves to forget the matter. The two women often take Huck aside for religious discussions, in which Widow Douglas describes a wonderful God, while Miss Watson describes a terrible one. Huck concludes there are two Gods and decides he would like to belong to Widow Douglas’s, if He would take him. Huck considers this unlikely because of his bad qualities.

Meanwhile, a rumor circulates that Huck’s Pap, who has not been seen in a year, is dead. A corpse was found in the river, thought to be Pap because of its “ragged” appearance. The face, however, was unrecognizable. At first, Huck is relieved. His father had been a drunk who beat him when he was sober, although Huck stayed hidden from him most of the time. Upon hearing further description of the body found, however, Huck realizes that it is not his father but rather a woman dressed in men’s clothes. Huck worries that his father will soon reappear.

After a month in Tom’s gang, Huck and the rest of the boys quit. With no actual robbing or killing going on, the gang’s existence is pointless. Huck tells of one of Tom’s more notable games, in which Tom pretended that a caravan of Arabs and Spaniards was going to camp nearby with hundreds of camels and elephants. It turned out to be a Sunday-school picnic, although Tom explained that it really was a caravan of Arabs and Spaniards—only they were enchanted, like in Don Quixote. The raid on the picnic netted the boys only a few doughnuts and jam but a fair amount of trouble. After testing another of Tom’s theories by rubbing old lamps and rings but failing to summon a genie, Huck judges that most of Tom’s stories have been “lies.”

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Analysis: Chapters 2–3

These chapters establish Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as foils for each other—characters whose actions and traits contrast each other in a way that gives us a better understanding of both of their characters. Twain uses Tom to satirize romantic literature and to comment on the darker side of so-called civilized society. Tom insists that his make-believe adventures be conducted “by the book.” As Tom himself admits in regard to his gang’s oath, he gets many of his ideas from fiction. In particular, Tom tries to emulate the romantic—that is, unrealistic, sensationalized, and sentimentalized—novels, mostly imported from Europe, that achieved enormous popularity in nineteenth-century America. Tom is identified with this romantic genre throughout the novel. Whereas Tom puts great stock in literary models, Huck is as skeptical of these as he is of religion. In both realms, Huck refuses to accept much on faith. He rejects both genies and prayers when they fail to produce the promised results. Twain makes this contrast between Tom’s romanticism and Huck’s skepticism to show that both points of view can prove equally misleading if taken to extremes.

Read an in-depth analysis of Huck.

Although Huck and Tom are set up as foils for one another, they still share some traits, which help to sustain their friendship throughout the novel. Perhaps most important, the two share a rambunctious boyishness; they delight in the dirty language and pranks that the adult world condemns. Yet Huck’s feelings about society and the adult world are based on his negative experiences—most notably with his abusive father—and ring with a seriousness and weight that Tom’s fancies lack. We get the sense that Tom can afford to accept the nonsense of society and romantic literature, but Huck cannot. On the whole, Huck’s alienation from the “civilization” of the adult world is a bit starker and sadder.

Read an in-depth analysis of Tom.

Ironically, the novel that Tom explicitly mentions as a model for his actions is Cervantes’s Don Quixote. In his masterpiece, Cervantes satirizes romantic adventure stories as Twain does in Huckleberry Finn. In referencing Don Quixote, Twain also gives a literary tip of the hat to one of the earliest and greatest picaresque novels, which, through its naïve protagonist’s wacky adventures, satirizes literature, society, and human nature in much the same way that Twain does in Huckleberry Finn. By means of the reference to Don Quixote, Twain tells us that, though he intends to write a humorous novel, Huckleberry Finn also fits into a longstanding tradition of novels that seek to criticize through humor, to point out absurdity through absurdity. In this chapter, for instance, Twain comments on Tom’s absurdity and blind ignorance in basing his actions on a novel that is so clearly a satire. Tom, who is interested in contracts, codes of conduct, fancy language, and make-believe ideas, believes in these frilly ideas at the expense of common sense. He cares more about absurd stylistic ideals than he does about people. Tom also displays some of the hypocrisy of civilized society. For instance, he makes the members of his gang sign an oath in blood and swear not to divulge the group’s secrets, but when a boy threatens to betray that promise, Tom simply offers him a bribe.

Read more about the similarities between Don Quixote and Huck Finn.