After Huck returns home, Miss Watson scolds him for having dirtied his clothes. The Widow Douglas does not scold Huck, but washes his clothes, looking so sorry as she does so that Huck resolves to behave himself. Miss Watson takes Huck into a closet to pray, telling him that he will receive whatever he asks for, but Huck concludes that this is not the case, on the grounds that, when he prayed for a “fish-line,” he got one, but it didn’t have any hooks and was therefore useless.
Though they seem to hold the same Christian values, Miss Watson is strict without compassion, whereas the Widow is compassionate. As Christianity is a religion rooted in compassion, it could be said that Miss Watson and the Widow really do hold different values. Indeed, Miss Watson tells Huck that one gets whatever one prays for, but this is not a Christian conception of prayer at all. It’s a superstition.
Huck recounts how he sat down, one time, in the back of the woods and thought about prayer. He wonders, if someone gets whatever he or she prays for, why, for example, the Widow Douglas can’t get her silver snuff-box back that was stolen. Huck concludes that, insofar as prayer is concerned, “there ain’t nothing in it.” He tells the Widow this, and she says one can only get “spiritual gifts” by praying, that is, gifts that aid one in being selfless. Huck thinks that selflessness is not advantageous, and decides to just “let it go.” He goes on to say, though, that there must be two Providences, that of the Widow and that of Miss Watson, and that he would belong to the former, even though it might not help him considering that he is so “ignorant and…low-down and ornery.”
Huck realizes that Miss Watson’s conception of prayer as getting whatever you ask for doesn’t account for the actual effects of prayer. The Widow Douglas clarifies that one doesn’t get whatever one prays for in Christian thought, but rather that one receives not material but spiritual gifts through prayer. The practical Huck doesn’t value such gifts very highly, but he does conclude that, if given the choice between Miss Watson’s seemingly Christian values and the Widow’s real Christian values, he’d take the latter.
Huck thinks about his father Pap, who hadn’t been seen for more than a year, which is just fine with Huck. Pap is an abusive drunkard. People thought that he had drowned, because a body resembling his had been dredged from the river, but Huck doesn’t think it was Pap’s body after all, because the body was discovered floating on its back, and men, Huck thinks, float on their faces, so that body must have been a woman’s.
This foreshadows Pap’s reappearance later in the novel, as well as the episode in which Huck disguises himself as a girl, only to be found out for what he is. That Huck knows how women and men float speaks to his familiarity with the destructiveness of nature and horrors of death, shocking given his young age.
Huck turns to thinking about Tom Sawyer’s Gang. They played robber for about a month, before all the boys, including Huck, resigned from the gang because they hadn’t robbed anyone but only pretended to. They would hide in the woods and charge on passers-by, like hog-drovers and women in carts taking produce to market. Tom referred to the hogs as “ingots” and produce as “julery”, but Huck sees no profit in pretending.
More than anything, Tom loves to pretend, and he is very childlike in this way. Play is its own reward for him. In contrast, Huck is interested in material profit, which is an interest shared by the adults in the novel. Unlike Tom, Huck’s childhood, it would seem, has ended prematurely, maybe because of the difficulties of his life, the poverty that he again and again contends with.
One time, Huck goes on to recount, Tom summoned the Gang and told them about a large group of Spanish merchants and “A-rabs” who were going to camp in a nearby cave with their elephants, camels, mules, diamonds, and other exotic riches. After polishing their swords and guns, which were really just “lath and broom-sticks,” the Gang set out to raid the Spanish and Arab camp, only to find a Sunday school picnic in its place. The Gang chased the children at the picnic and seized their goods. When Huck points out to Tom that there were no Spaniards and Arabs, Tom tells Huck he is wrong, that it only seemed that way because magicians transformed the Spaniards and Arabs and their possessions into “an infant Sunday school.”
Tom has a wildly active imagination, fueled by the books he has read. He can turn even something mundane like a Sunday school picnic into the object of adventure. When Huck, always the realist, challenges Tom’s imaginings as fake, Tom can defend their reality with yet new imaginings, as he defends his imaginings of the Arabs and Spaniards with imaginings of magicians. In this way, Tom shows that, with the power of imagination, one can defy the logic of the real world (for better and, we will see, for worse).
After calling Huck a “numskull” for thinking that the Sunday school picnic was just that, Tom explains to Huck that a magician could call up genies to aid them in their enchantments. Huck asks Tom if the Gang can summon genies to help them, but Tom says that, to summon a genie, one must have a lamp or ring to rub, and that the genies are powerful enough to build even palaces. Huck says that the genies are “a pack of flatheads” for serving someone when they could keep the palaces for themselves. Tom retorts that Huck is a “perfect sap-head.” Later, to see if there is anything to what Tom says, Huck got a lamp and ring and rubbed them, but no genie came. Huck concludes that Tom lied about the Arabs and elephants, for the group the Gang robbed “had all the marks of a Sunday school.”
Given that they are so powerful, Huck thinks, genies are foolish for serving others slavishly when they could serve themselves. This reveals one of Huck’s commitments to freedom: if one is able to liberate oneself, one should do so. Though Huck doesn’t cross-apply this commitment to black slaves in bondage now, he later will. Note, also, that Huck tests Tom’s claim about how genies are summoned. Huck is open but skeptical about others ideas and is keen to test what others tell him on his own terms, a trait which enables him to penetrate societal hypocrisy.