.. el’s accurate depiction of the world in which it is set. Yet this word is so hateful that over the years it has brought charges of racism onto the book and its author, and even some attempts to keep the book away from young people. The word is nigger. It is first used in Chapter One, as it will be throughout the book, to refer to all African Americans and especially those held as slaves.
It is important to remember that the word is used as part of the language of a corrupt, racist society. That society used that word as surely as it held human beings in slavery. Both facts are described in the novel; it is important to remember that the author condemns both. Summary Huck and Tom tiptoe through the garden. Huck trips on a root as he passes the kitchen.
Jim, a big slave, hears him from inside. Tom and Huck crouch down, trying to stay still. But Huck is struck by an uncontrollable itch, as always happens when he is in a situation, like when he’s with the quality, where it is bad to scratch. Jim says aloud that he will stay put until he discovers the source of the sound, but after several minutes falls asleep. Tom plays a trick on Jim–putting his hat on a tree branch over his head–and takes candles from the kitchen, over Huck’s objections that they will risk getting caught.
Later, Jim will say that some witches flew him around the state and put the hat above his head as a calling card. He expands the tale further, becoming a local celebrity among the slaves, who enjoy witch stories. He wears around his neck the five-cent piece Tom left for the candles, calling it a charm from the devil with the power to cure sickness. 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 declares his new band of robbers, Tom Sawyer’s Gang. All must sign in blood an oath 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. Tom admits he got part of it from books. The boys nearly disqualify Huck, who has no family but a drunken father who can never be found, until Huck offers Miss Watson. Tom says the gang must capture and ransom people, though nobody knows what ransom means. Tom assumes it means to kill them.
But anyway, it must be done since all the books say so. When one boy cries to go home and threatens to tell the group’s secrets, Tom bribes him with five cents. They agree to meet again someday, just not Sunday, which would be blasphemous. Huckleberry makes it back into bed just before dawn. Miss Watson tries to explain prayer to Huckleberry in Chapter Three. Huckleberry gives up on it after not getting what he prays for.
Miss Watson calls him a fool, and explains prayer bestows spiritual gifts like selflessness to help others. Huck cannot see any advantage in this, except for the others one helps. So he resolves to forget it. Widow Douglas describes a wonderful God, while Miss Watson’s is terrible. Huck concludes there are two Gods.
He would like to belong to Widow Douglas’s, if He would take him – unlikely because of Huck’s 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, though the face is unrecognizable. At first Huck is relieved. His father had been a drunk who beat him when he was sober, though Huck stayed hidden from him most of the time.
Soon, however, Huck doubts his father’s death, and expects to see him again. After a month in Tom’s gang, Huck quit along with the rest of the boys. There was no point to it, without any robbery or killing, their activities being all pretend. Once, Tom pretended a caravan of Arabs and Spaniards were going to encamp nearby with hundreds of camels and elephants. It turned out to be a Sunday school picnic. Tom explained it really was a caravan of Arabs and Spaniards – only they were enchanted, like in Don Quixote. Huckleberry judged Tom’s stories of genies to be lies, after rubbing old lamps and rings with no result.
Commentary These two chapters develop the characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. The two are, in several respects, foils. But they still have some things in common. Through the character of Tom, Twain also pokes fun at romantic (non-realistic) literature. Tom insists that all his make-believe adventures be conducted by the book.
As Tom himself admits in regarding his gang’s oath, he gets many of his ideas from fiction. In particular, Tom tries to emulate the romantic (that is, not realistic) novels that were mostly imported from Europe and achieved enormous popularity in nineteenth-century North America. Tom will be identified with this genre throughout the novel (though he will not appear in most of it). Twain detested this category of literature, an opinion that is developed more fully in the last chapters of Huckleberry Finn. Ironically, the book that Tom explicitly mentions as a model in these chapters is Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Cervantes actually satirized romantic adventure stories in his masterpiece, as Twain does here and elsewhere in Huckleberry Finn. Tom apparently didn’t get the satire.
But with this allusion, Twain may be giving a literary tip of the hat to an earlier satirist and observer of human nature. But beyond simply using Tom’s connection to the romance novels to satirize the genre, Twain also seems to be associating Tom with the civilization that the genre represents. Tom further interests himself in contracts, codes of conduct, fancy language, and other made-up ideas. He also seems to embody some of the negative qualities associated with civilization in the novel. Most importantly, Tom is insensitive to others, particularly the slaves. In Chapter Two, Tom actually wants to tie Jim up for the fun of it.
He settles for playing a trick on him. Tom’s insensitivity, especially toward slaves, will reach a peak in the book’s final chapters. Tom also seems to possess a tendency in favor of the hypocrisy of civilized society that Twain pokes at. For instance, Tom makes his gang sign an oath in blood not to divulge the group’s secrets, but when a boy threatens to do this, Tom simply bribes him. Tom’s above-mentioned character traits contrast sharply with Huckleberry’s corresponding traits.
While Tom puts great stock in the literature of civilization, Huck is as skeptical of it as he is of religion. For both literature and religion, Huck refuses to accept much on faith. In Chapter Three, he rejects both genies and prayers once they do not produce the promised results. (Twain is making an irreverent statement on popular religious beliefs by showing Huck’s similar rejection of both prayer and genies.) Again, since both religion and romantic literature are products of civilization, Huck’s doubt towards them hints at his separation from civilization. Also, where Tom is insensitive to others, Huckleberry is naturally considerate, advising his friend against tying Jim up or playing tricks on him. Tom’s tendency toward hypocrisy also contrasts sharply with Huck’s sincerity, discussed in the critical reading of the last chapter.
Thus, the two characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are foils to each other: certain traits of one character serve to highlight the contrasting traits of the other. Nonetheless, though the important contrasting traits of the two characters make them foils, they still share some traits in common. These shared traits are enough to preserve the friendship between Tom and Huckleberry throughout the novel. Most importantly, the two characters share a kind of boyishness– that is, the characteristic embodied in the phrase, boys will be boys, and expounded upon in the first novel, Tom Sawyer. In the Preface to that book, the author wrote that he hoped the novel would rekindle its readers’ memories of their own childhood impishness, of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.
That theme is continued as something of a motif, a topic of interest, in Huckleberry Finn. Both Huck and Tom, in their own ways, delight in the dirty language and pranks that adults shun. On the whole, though, Huck’s separation from the world of adults and their civilization is more complete, and more serious. Still, throughout the novel, Huck maintains some admiration for Tom’s romantic adventures, and often wonders what he would do in certain situations. Thus, Huck’s character has some connection to Tom’s less desirable traits.