As Huck and Tom Sawyer sneak away from the Widow Douglas’s house, Huck trips and makes a noise. One of Miss Watson’s slaves, Jim, hears the noise and leans out of the kitchen doorway and asks who’s there. Huck and Tom are silent, hiding in the dark, even though Huck needs to scratch an itch, which Huck says is even itchier because he knows he can’t scratch it without making a noise. Jim comes outside and searches for the source of the sound but, finding nothing, eventually sits down and falls asleep.
Jim is a good man: even though he detests his enslavement, he investigates the noise to make sure that there is nothing dangerous outside threatening Miss Watson or her interests. Huck’s predicament shows that making a bid for freedom can be uncomfortable, but he would rather be uncomfortable now and free later than otherwise.
Despite Huck’s protests, Tom takes some candles from the Widow Douglas’s kitchen, leaving five cents in payment, and then tricks the sleeping Jim by taking Jim’s hat off of his head and hanging it on a nearby tree branch. Afterwards, Jim tells his fellow slaves that a witch possessed him and rode him everywhere that night, hanging his hat on the branch to show that she had ridden him so. Jim’s fellow slaves would come from far and wide to listen to Jim’s story.
Tom takes risks, like stealing the candles, that Huck objects to. Huck is more practical, perhaps because Tom comes from a more privileged background than Huck. Like Huck, Jim explains unknown phenomena, like how his hat got into the tree, with superstitious explanations. It seems silly for the other slaves to believe Huck's stories, but later in the novel many religious whites will believe stories just as ridiculous.
Tom and Huck meet up with some other boys, and, after a short excursion, end up in a cave, where Tom announces that the boys present can be members of his band of robbers, which he calls Tom Sawyer’s Gang. All the boys want to be members, and, after swearing an oath that Tom fashioned after what he read in robber and pirate books, are inducted into the Gang. However, the oath requires that, if a member reveals a secret of the Gang, his family be killed. Huck doesn’t have a family other than a drunkard father who no one can ever find, and so the boys debate whether he should be inducted into the Gang at all. Huck at last offers Miss Watson to be killed, which his fellows accept.
Here, the boys play at making their own society. Like the society of the South, that of the boys is rooted in silly traditions, those Tom derived from his robber and pirate books. But the boys also demonstrate that they are more flexible than members of the society of the South. They are willing to bend their own rules so that Huck can be a member of the Gang.
The members of Tom Sawyer’s Gang debate what their purpose will be. Tom declares that the Gang’s purpose is to rob people on the roads of watches and money, and then to either kill or ransom those whom they rob. One boy questions whether the Gang should ransom people, but Tom insists that it must, because that is what happens in the books that he reads. The only problem is that no one knows what it means to ransom someone. Tom concludes that it is to keep someone until they die, and the boys agree this must be the case. The boys also agree not to kill women, but to keep them in the cave and treat them very sweetly. The Gang decides to pull off its first robbery, but can’t do it on Sunday because that would be wicked. The Gang disperses, and Huck returns home.
Tom’s Gang, like society, is rooted in arbitrary traditions that have lost their meaning. The boys don’t know what ransoming is, but adopt it as a practice only because of tradition. While it is okay for a make-believe gang to do so, it is childish for adults in society to do so, especially considering that, while the violence done by Tom’s gang is pretend, that perpetrated by society is very real, with bloody, sometimes deadly consequences. This passage also points out how ridiculous it is to obey the letter of Christianity but not the spirit: the boys are going to do something bad, rob people, but insist that they can’t do it on Sunday, because Sunday is a holy day. But wicked things are no more wicked on one day than another—the boys are mixing up looking like good Christians with actually being good Christians, just as it becomes clear many adults also do.