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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTER 3

The morning after the secret meeting, Huck has to put up with a scolding from Miss Watson and-worse-looks of hurt disappointment from the Widow Douglas. Miss Watson tells him he might get better if he prays, but he has his doubts about that.

Huck then tells us about a time when he went off into the woods and "had a long think" about praying. (He's in the habit of going off by himself and thinking when something bothers him.) If prayer is so powerful, he wonders, why don't people like the Deacon, Widow Douglas, and Miss Watson have everything they want?

The widow explains to him that praying will win him "spiritual gifts," and that the best kind of prayer is the kind that's meant to help other people. Huck goes off and thinks about that for a while, then decides that he isn't interested in something that will help other people but not him.

Huck also talks about the difference between the Providence (God) that the widow tells him about, and the one he hears about from Miss Watson. Huck thinks they are two different Gods, and this is another case of Twain talking to you over the head of his narrator. Twain is suggesting that God can be imagined in different ways by people with different personalities.

Huck says he'd prefer belonging to the widow's God, but he can't see why God would want someone so ignorant, low-down, and ornery. By this time you should begin to see that Twain doesn't share Huck's low opinion of himself-and he doesn't expect you to share it either.


Huck believes that just about everyone he comes in contact with is better than he is. For example, as much as he dislikes Miss Watson, he doesn't immediately dismiss everything she tells him. He may reject it after he's thought it over a bit, but his first reaction is, "She's smarter than I am. Maybe she's right."

He even goes along with everything Tom Sawyer suggests, no matter how silly the suggestion is. Tom reads books and goes to school. Tom is "sivilized," so he must be better than Huck.

At this point, Huck talks a bit about his father, who disappeared more than a year ago. Pap was a drunkard who used to beat Huck whenever he was sober. Huck certainly doesn't miss him. He tells us that a body was found floating in the river, and that some people believe it was Pap. Huck doesn't think so, and he's afraid his father will show up again.

Huck isn't very excited about playing robber with Tom's gang. They do a lot of running around, he tells us, and they scare people sometimes, but they aren't stealing anything. And they certainly haven't killed anybody yet.

In Tom's imagination, though, they are doing all the things he said they would. They have swords and guns, they steal jewels and gold ingots, they're getting ready to ambush "a whole parcel of Spanish merchants and rich Arabs."

Huck knows they're really brandishing broomsticks and stealing turnips but Tom's description of the Spaniards and "A-rabs," with their elephants and camels, does catch his interest. So he shows up the next day to take part in the spectacle.

What Huck sees is a Sunday School picnic for little kids. What Tom sees are the Spaniards and Arabs he described. The gang has been enchanted by magicians, Tom explains, and they only think they're looking at a kid's picnic.

Read this conversation between Huck and Tom carefully, because it shows a contrast between the two boys-a contrast that will become important later in the book. In this conversation, Huck makes several suggestions about how they can carry out their plan to rob and kill. Tom counters all of Huck's suggestions with fantasy elements from the books he's read-magicians, magic lamps, giant genies.

Huck is thinking about the concrete world around him; Tom is following a set of "rules" he's put together from his books. The two boys are not talking about the same thing.

Tom becomes exasperated with Huck's realistic, down-to-earth approach to robbing and killing, and finally calls him a "perfect saphead" for not knowing anything. Huck, of course, doesn't claim that he isn't a saphead, because he secretly believes he is. Instead of arguing, he goes off to test what Tom has said. He tries conjuring up a giant by rubbing a tin lamp.

When nothing happens, he puts Tom into the same class as the widow and Miss Watson. Tom might believe that the stuff he reads about is true, but to Huck, it has "all the marks of a Sunday school."

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