Chapters 4–8 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1283
Three or four months pass, and it is winter. Huck has been attending school and has learned to read and write “just a little” and to recite the multiplication table “up to six times seven is thirty-five” (which, of course, it is not). He has become used to attending school and living with the Widow and Miss Watson, and does not mind the changes in his life as much as he used to.
One day, however, Huck spills salt at breakfast and has no opportunity to throw a pinch of it over his shoulder to ward off bad luck. This worries him, and his concern is exacerbated when he sees the tracks of familiar boots in the snow. He races to Judge Thatcher’s house and asks the judge to take his entire $6,000 fortune, together with all interest. The judge does not understand what he means. However, he eventually realizes what is worrying Huck (which is not, at this stage, spelled out for the reader) and agrees to buy all his property for a dollar. The two of them sign a contract to this effect. When Huck goes up to his room that night he finds, as expected, that his father, Pap, is there.
Pap is about fifty years old and looks it. He has lank, greasy hair, his face is “fish-belly white,” and he is dressed in rags. He begins by observing that Huck obviously thinks he is “a good deal of a big bug,” with his fine clothes and his education. He is angry that Huck has learned to read and tells him to stop attending school. He then says that he has heard Huck is rich, and he demands the money. Huck replies that he has no money except a dollar—Pap can ask Judge Thatcher. Pap takes the dollar and goes off to buy whiskey.
The next day, Pap goes to Judge Thatcher’s house and harangues him. Judge Thatcher and the Widow Douglas try to obtain legal guardianship of Huck, but they fail, and Pap reasserts his authority over his son.
Pap continues to make a nuisance of himself. He pursues Judge Thatcher in the courts for Huck’s money and tries to prevent Huck from going to school. Huck, who had not much enjoyed school before, now continues to attend in order to spite Pap. Eventually, Pap catches Huck and takes him three miles up the river, where he keeps him prisoner in an old log cabin on the Illinois side.
Huck becomes resigned to his new life with Pap and actually starts to enjoy it. He spends his time smoking and fishing and never has to learn anything. Apart from the occasional beatings he receives from Pap, life is quite comfortable. However, as these beatings grow more frequent, and Pap sometimes leaves Huck locked in the cabin for days at a time, he begins to think about escape, though he does not want to return to the Widow Douglas, either. One night, Pap becomes very drunk on whiskey. His behavior becomes violent and erratic, and he threatens to kill Huck but then goes to sleep. Huck takes Pap’s gun and points it at him as he waits for his father to wake up.
The next thing Huck knows, it is morning and Pap is standing over him, having forgotten the events of the previous night. Huck excuses the gun by saying that someone was trying to get into the cabin and goes out to walk along the riverbank. He sees a canoe drifting past, secures it, and hides it, with the idea of making his escape in it later.
When Pap goes out for the night, Huck saws a hole in the cabin and escapes, loading the canoe up with bacon, whiskey, coffee, sugar, ammunition, and other supplies. He then fakes his own death, smashing in the door of the cabin with an axe and spreading the blood of a wild pig he has killed, along with his own hair. He drags a sack of rocks to the riverbank to make it look as though his body has been dumped in the river. Then he makes his escape in the canoe.
Huck knows that his plan has been successful when he sees a ferryboat going along the river carrying various people he knows and firing cannon over the water in an effort to bring his body to the surface. He surmises that this means his ruse has worked and no one will come after him.
One night, Huck camps on an island in the middle of the river and sees a campfire nearby. On further investigation, he finds Miss Watson’s slave, Jim, lying beside it. When greeted, Jim at first takes Huck for a ghost, but Huck quickly corrects this impression, and they make breakfast together from the supplies in Huck’s canoe. Jim has run away from Miss Watson, who had planned to sell him to a slave trader for $800. He reflects that he is now rich, since he owns himself.
This section of the story introduces Huck’s drunken, abusive father, known as “Pap.” Tom Sawyer and the respectable boys in St. Petersburg have always envied Huck’s freedom, but they have not taken into account how that freedom is limited and undermined by the occasional but powerful influence of Pap’s violent hostility. After an absence of over a year, Pap returns to St. Petersburg, having heard that his son is rich. He is infuriated to find Huck living with the Widow Douglas and attending school, and jeers at his opulent lifestyle. His principal concern seems to be that Huck will now think himself superior to his father. This puts him in direct conflict with the aspirational temper of the community, in which all the other parents want their children to succeed.
Huck’s intelligence is evident in his immediate response to seeing the print of Pap’s boot. The fact that his reasons for entrusting all his money to Judge Thatcher are not immediately explained to the reader serves to emphasize the speed of his thought and action. The same thoughtfulness and attention to detail are clear when Huck fakes his own death. He thinks of Tom Sawyer as he lays the false trail of blood and hair, and when he later describes his actions to Jim, Jim remarks that Tom himself could not have done better. However, Huck does in real life what Tom does in the realms of fantasy and childhood games, and he is just as nonchalant about it. When he hears the boom of the cannon from a ferryboat, he is quick to understand that this shooting is intended to bring his corpse to the river’s surface.
Although Jim has already appeared in chapter 2, it is only in chapter 8 that he speaks at any length. Jim’s escape from Miss Watson, who has been offered the tempting sum of $800 for him, brings the central themes of racism and slavery into the book. Twain is often criticized both for the use of racist language and for making Jim speak in dialect. The phonetic representation of Jim’s speech takes some time to seem natural to the reader. However, Twain clearly employs it, as he does the racial slurs, to enhance the realism of the book. Jim is a highly sympathetic character, and Huck, who has an uneasy relationship with the respectable society that has enslaved Jim, treats him as a friend and comrade, despite the danger of being called “a low-down Abolitionist.” Jim’s wit and intelligence are evident from the remarks he makes about his new-found wealth in owning himself.