Huck is scared at first to see the old, greasy, pale Pap sitting in his room because Pap “tanned,” or beat, him so often, but soon is not scared at all. Pap reprimands Huck for wearing nice clothes, and says that because Huck has learned to read and write he must think he’s better than his own father. Pap vows to take Huck’s “frills” out of him. Pap warns that Huck better stop going to school, because none of Huck’s family was educated, and, therefore, neither should Huck.
Far from offering Huck any kind of freedom from his strictly “sivilized” lifestyle, Pap imposes yet another kind of imprisonment, one based on class, where Huck is prevented from bettering and educating himself. This is counter-intuitive: Pap should want the best for his son, but he instead wants no better for Huck than what he himself had.
Pap tells Huck that he hears that Huck is rich now, but Huck says that he doesn’t have any money. Pap calls Huck a liar and says that he wants Huck’s money. Huck shells out his one dollar and Pap takes it to buy whiskey with.
Huck would rather enable Pap’s drinking by giving him money than be beat for not doing so, reflecting a pragmatic commitment to being responsible for oneself.
The next day, Pap is drunk and tries to coerce Judge Thatcher into giving him Huck’s fortune, but the Judge refuses. Afterward, Judge Thatcher and the Widow go to a court of law to take Huck from Pap’s custody, but the new judge whom they appeal to, so-called because he is new to the court, says he wouldn’t take a son from his father. Judge Thatcher and the Widow are forced to quit the business, and Pap is granted custody of Huck.
The new judge whom the Widow and Judge Thatcher approach delivers a hypocritical ruling: he gives Pap custody of Huck because he thinks that the tradition of parent raising child honors the welfare of the child, yet Huck’s welfare is actively endangered by Pap. The judge ignores the actual facts in favor of a principle that doesn’t hold in every situation.
Pap is pleased with the court’s custody ruling. He threatens to beat Huck “black and blue” unless Huck raises money for him. Huck borrows three dollars from Judge Thatcher, which Pap uses to get drunk, going around town “cussing and whooping and carrying on.” Pap is jailed for making such a ruckus.
As Miss Watson is stuck in her values and ways, so is Pap stuck in his cruelty, selfishness, drunkenness, and debauchery. Even having his freedom taken away doesn’t deter him from acting badly.
After Pap is released, the new judge resolves to reform him. He invites Pap to supper, where he lectures Pap on temperance and other virtues till Pap begins to cry and swears that, though he has been a fool, he is going to turn his life around. The judge believes Pap, and has his whole family shake Pap’s hand, once “the hand of a hog,” but no more. All cry. The judge provides Pap with a room, but soon after Pap begins to desire alcohol. He climbs out of his room, trades his new coat for whiskey, and climbs back into the room. The next morning, he crawls out of the room again, drunk, breaks his arm, and almost freezes to death where he falls. The judge is upset, and says that Pap could be reformed “with a shot-gun, maybe,” but by no other means.
The new judge, maybe regretting that he has given the debauched Pap custody of Huck, tries to give Pap an opportunity to break out of his irresponsible ways, and Pap seems to attempt to do so. But his habits are too deeply ingrained to be corrected: as soon as he is given back his freedom, Pap indulges in his literally self-destructive behaviors again. He altogether lacks Huck’s adaptability. Pap may not be “regular” like the Widow and Ms. Watson, but he is no more free than they are, imprisoned in his bad ways as he is. Only in death, the judge thinks, can such a man be free.