The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

Chapters 2–3

Summary Chapters 2–3

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.

Read a translation of Chapter 2 →

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.”