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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER 8: I Spare Miss Watson’s Jim
When Huck wakes up after a refreshing sleep, the sun is shining brightly. He lounges around and almost drifts off to sleep again when he is startled by a booming noise. He gets up and goes to the edge of the water to investigate. He sees a ferryboat full of people and realizes what the matter is. They were shooting cannons into the water in an attempt to bring up Huck’s body.
Although hungry, Huck hesitates to start a fire for fear that it will alert the people on the boat to his presence. He remembers that people put mercury on loaves of bread and float them on the water since they believed that the loaves will stop near a drowned body. A few minutes later, he sees a loaf of bread and picks it up, removes the mercury, and bites into it with relish. Huck continues to watch the boat, hidden among the trees, and when it comes close enough, he recognizes Aunt Polly, Pap, Tom, Judge Thatcher, and a host of other people. They are alerted by their captain to search the water’s edge carefully, for he suspects that the body is washed ashore. A little later, the boat moves away, giving up the search.
Huck, sure that he is safe, takes out his things from the canoe and makes a nice camp for himself. He creates a tent with the blankets and stores his groceries inside. He cooks his supper over an open fire, but feels lonely afterwards and goes to the riverbank to watch the flow of water. Calmed by the river, he goes to bed. He follows the same routine for the next three days. On the fourth day, he goes exploring the island and discovers the remains of a campfire. His heart leaps with fear, and, holding on tight to his gun, he goes back the way he came, looking over his shoulder all the while. He puts out the fire in his camp, bundles his possessions, climbs up a tree, and begins his watch. He comes down a few hours later and leaves in his canoe, planning to spend the night in it. He cannot go to sleep, however, for every time he closes his eyes, he has the feeling that someone is trying to catch him. He decides to go back to the place where he earlier saw the remains of the fire in an attempt to overcome his fear.
When he reaches the spot, Huck finds a man fast asleep with a blanket around his head. Huck hides, and when the man wakes up and takes off the blanket, Huck is surprised to see Jim, Miss Watson’s servant. Huck comes out of his hiding place and calls out to him. Jim is amazed to see Huck and stares wildly; he drops to his knees and cries out that Huck should not hurt him. Like everybody else, Jim also thinks that Huck is dead, and he is seeing his ghost. Huck convinces Jim that he is not a ghost and tells him he is very happy to see him, for he has been lonely. Huck tells Jim that he has been on the island since the night he was “killed” and has lived on the fruits he could find growing in abundance there. They both get into Huck’s canoe and go back to Huck’s camp.
After breakfast, Jim asks Huck who was killed in the cabin if it was not Huck. When Jim hears the whole story, he is impressed by Huck’s planning and says Tom Sawyer could not have thought of a better plan. Jim explains that he ran away when he overheard Miss Watson talking to a slave trader about selling him for eight hundred dollars. On the first day he hid in a shop near the river, where he overheard everybody talking of Huck’s murder. Once it got dark, he floated down the river on a raft. He landed on Jackson’s Island and has been hiding here ever since. Huck promises not to turn Jim in even though “people would call me a low down Ablitionist and despise me for keeping mum.” Jim is relieved at Huck’s news.
During the course of their conversation, Jim talks about a number of superstitions, and Huck is very impressed by Jim’s knowledge, believing him to know almost everything. Jim also tells Huck how he is going to be rich one day. Then it dawns on him that he is already rich, for he now owns himself, and he knows he is worth eight hundred dollars.
Huck’s practicality is again seen in this chapter. Although he is hungry, he will not build a fire for fear of being detected by the people on the search boat. Instead, he grabs one of the loaves of bread, removes the mercury, and eats it eagerly to stave off his hunger. When he finds a recent campfire, he packs his things and leaves, fearing he will be caught; but he refuses to give in to his fear. He returns to the site of the campfire, sees a man sleeping, and hides and waits to discover who it is.
In contrast to Huck’s practicality, this chapter again points out the superstitions of the people. First, it is the loaf of bread with mercury in it that is floated to locate a drowned body. Later, Jim says that if birds fly in a certain direction, it brings rain. The uneducated Huck is awed by Jim’s knowledge of superstitions.
It is interesting to note that Huck has intentionally left society behind, but he feels lonely on the island. He needs companionship; therefore, he readily accepts Jim as a friend, no longer worrying about social conventions. His relationship with Jim will help him mature as the novel progresses.