Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Three or four months pass since the Gang’s raid on the Sunday school. Huck has been going to school and learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, though he “don’t take no stock in mathematics.” He hated school at first, but gets used to it. He is also getting used to the regularity of the Widow’s household, and even coming to like it.
It is telling that Huck finds reading and writing valuable, both social subjects concerned with communication in the real world, but not arithmetic, a rigidly abstract subject. That said, Huck is adaptable enough that he soon comes to like what he hated at first.
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One morning, Huck overturns a saltcellar at breakfast. To ward off bad luck, he reaches for the spilt contents to throw some salt over his left shoulder, but Miss Watson prevents him from doing so, telling him that he is a mess-maker. As Huck uneasily heads out of the house, he keeps a lookout for bad things coming his way. As he walks, he sees in the snow somebody’s tracks, the left boot-heel of which, because studded with nails, leaves crosses in the ground to ward off the devil.
Miss Watson is always telling Huck about her Christian superstitions, but she sees his superstitions as ridiculous. That said, Huck does indeed encounter something bad: the telltale marks of his father’s tracks in the snow (though the novel builds suspense by not revealing just what the bad thing is yet). Huck’s logical misstep is in thinking that spilling the salt caused his father to reappear.
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Huck nervously makes his way to Judge Thatcher’s house. The judge tells Huck that the six thousand dollars he has left in the bank has collected interest, and warns him against taking any money out of the bank. Huck replies he wants Judge Thatcher to have all of his money. The Judge, not quite understanding Huck’s intentions, buys Huck’s property for a dollar.
In response to seeing Pap’s tracks, Huck does something both reasonable and practical: he gives his money to Judge Thatcher so that the greedy Pap can’t take it from him, which would otherwise be allowed by the backwards custody laws of society.
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Huck goes on to tell how Jim has a hairball, taken from the belly of an ox, that Jim does magic with. Huck goes to Jim, tells him that he saw Pap’s tracks in the snow (those that leave the cross), and asks what Pap is going to do and how long he is going to be around. Jim says something over the hairball and drops it on the ground, but the hairball doesn’t talk. Jim explains that the hairball sometimes needs money to talk. Huck gives the hairball a badly counterfeited quarter with brass showing through the silver, saying nothing of the dollar he got from Judge Thatcher. After Jim puts the quarter in a split raw potato to cover the brass, he and Huck put it under the hairball, Jim tells Huck that the hairball prophesies that Pap doesn’t know what he is going to do, and that Huck is going to have troubles and joys in his life. When Huck goes up to his room, he finds Pap sitting there.
It might seem that Jim is trying to con Huck out of money by telling him that sometimes his hairball requires payment before it speaks, but it must be remembered that Jim himself is superstitious, and that he gladly accepts Huck’s counterfeited quarter, as though to con not Huck but the hairball itself. Huck is, again, practical here, as an adult would be, in saying nothing about his actual dollar, thereby protecting it. Finally, note that, while Jim and Huck are superstitious about the hairball, they do not attribute a supernatural explanation to the re-silvering of the counterfeited quarter. What is considered magical in Huck’s world is arbitrary.
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