Huck wakes and takes in his surroundings, like a couple squirrels, Huck says, that “jabbered at me very friendly.” Soon Huck hears a “boom!” sound. Looking upstream, he sees a ferry firing a canon, which, Huck figures, is being done to make his own carcass come to the river’s surface. Hungry, Huck remembers that people looking for carcasses in the river put quicksilver in loaves of bread and float them down the river, because they always go right to the drowned body and stop there. Huck retrieves such a loaf and is pleased to learn that it tastes better than the “low-down corn-pone” that he usually eats.
After being locked up with the hostile Pap, Huck finds even squirrels to be welcoming. However, this scene is later contrasted with scenes in which nature is very dangerous. Although Huck is free in nature, he could not survive there without human society for very long. It’s ironic, though, that here society provides Huck, albeit unknowingly, with better food to eat when he is presumed dead, than when he is alive.
Huck thinks that the Widow or parson must have prayed for a loaf of bread to find his body, and, indeed, one did. He figures that when somebody like the Widow or parson prays, the prayer is answered, but that when someone like him prays, the prayer goes unanswered.
Huck’s thoughts on prayer have changed by this passage: whereas before he puts no stock in prayer, here Huck comes to think that good people’s prayers are answered, and that bad people’s are not. He sees himself as bad, because society has long equated his poverty and wildness with badness, though it is obvious to readers that Huck is not bad at all, revealing society’s hypocrisy.
Huck hides behind a long near the island’s shore to observe the ferry as it passes. Many people he knows are onboard, including Pap, Judge Thatcher, and Tom Sawyer, all of whom are talking about Huck’s “murder.” The captain tells them to scan the shore of Jackson Island for the corpse, and all of them do so, but none see Huck even though he is very close by. The cannon is fired, and Huck imagines that, had it been loaded, the blast would have killed him. The ferry drifts on downstream.
Huck is maybe too curious about how society thinks about his “murder” for his own good. Overhearing discussions onboard the ferry almost gets Huck wounded, after all, and he could have even been killed. He would do well to enjoy his freedom at a distance from people, at least for now.
Huck makes a tent, catches a catfish to eat, and puts in more fishing lines to catch breakfast. He begins to feel lonesome, however, and decides to go to bed. Such is his routine for the next three days and nights. He thinks of himself as the “boss” of Jackson’s Island. One day, however, after running across a snake and trying to shoot it, Huck comes across the yet-smoking ashes of a campfire. He nervously returns to his camp and hides his things. He himself hides in a tree. When it gets dark, Huck paddles to the Illinois bank of the river, prepares supper, and decides to stay put for the rest of the night.
Huck is not as free in nature as would make him comfortable. He has to contend with life-threatening dangers like snakes, and also other people out in nature, like those looking for him who could revoke his freedom, or, even more dangerous, violent fugitives. Huck is in need of people he can trust and who can help him at this point. He will experience difficulties impossible to overcome without friends.
Suddenly, Huck hears the sound of horses and human voices. He shoves out in his canoe and ties up back to his old place. There he tries to get some sleep, but can’t, “for thinking.” Restless, Huck goes into the woods with his gun, to re-find the campfire ashes he discovered earlier. Though he has no luck, later he does see a fire. A man is sleeping nearby: it is Jim. Huck greets him, but Jim jumps up, then falls to his knees, begging Huck not to hurt him, for he thinks Huck is a ghost. Huck succeeds in convincing Jim that he is not, in fact, a ghost. Huck also finds that he is no longer lonesome having found Jim.
Just as things become desperate for him, Huck discovers a friend in Jim, with whom he can negotiate the difficulties of nature and of society alike. With characteristic superstition, however, Jim, thinking that Huck was murdered, is afraid that Huck is a ghost.
Huck learns that Jim came to Jackson’s Island the night after Huck was allegedly killed, and that the runaway slave has been living on nothing but strawberries. Huck sets up camp and brings out his provisions of meal, bacon, and coffee, all of which Jim thinks is done by witchcraft. Huck also catches a catfish, which he and Jim enjoy for breakfast. The two eat till they’re stuffed and laze in the grass.
That Jim thinks that Huck summons creature comforts by witchcraft speaks to how poorly Jim has been faring; because the target of racial oppression, Jim can’t eat as well as Huck, and so can’t fathom doing so without magic being the cause. Together, Huck and Jim can live in relative peace.
If it wasn’t Huck killed in the cabin, Jim asks Huck, who was killed? Huck then explains his escape to Jim, who praises the plan as being worthy of Tom Sawyer himself. In turn, Huck asks Jim how he came to be on Jackson’s Island. Jim, reticent at first, has Huck swear to silence, which Huck does, and he assures Jim that he will honor his oath even if people call him a “low down Abolitionist.” Jim explains that Miss Watson treated him poorly and often threatened to sell him to a slaveholder in New Orleans. One night, Jim overheard Miss Watson say that, even though she doesn’t want to sell him, she could get eight hundred dollars for him, and so has decided to sell. Consequently, Jim fled, doing so by water to avoid being tracked by men and dogs. He eventually swam up to Jackson’s Island.
While it is good of Huck to swear to keep Jim’s secret, it is ironic that he thinks of being called an abolitionist a bad thing. Abolitionists fight for the freedom of the oppressed, which, the novel holds, is better than fighting to oppress. Though Huck doesn’t understand that now, he will later in the novel. This section of the novel also reveals some of the cruelties of slavery as an institution: Miss Watson, who claims to be a Christian, values money more than she does a human who, in Christian belief, has an immortal and infinitely valuable soul. Jim is also treated cruelly, and hunted like an animal.
Some young birds fly by Jim and Huck. Jim says that this is a sign that it is going to rain, for chickens flying by signify rain, and so, Jim figures, the same must be the case with young birds. Huck makes to kill one of the birds, but Jim stops him saying that doing so would be death. Jim explains that his father was once very sick, and one of Jim’s relatives caught a bird, and Jim’s grandma said his father would die, and his father did. Jim goes on to list things that bring bad luck, like counting what one is going to eat and shaking a tablecloth after sundown.
In the wild, Huck and Jim need to do whatever they can to survive, but superstitions sometimes get in the way of common-sense survivalist actions, like Jim’s superstition about birds. Huck and Jim could eat the birds, but, because of an irrational, impractical superstition, they refrain from doing so. Jim’s list of superstitions reveals how arbitrary superstitions are.
Huck asks if there are any good-luck signs. Jim says there are very few, and that they’re not very useful, because there’s no reason to know if good luck is coming one’s way. For example, Jim says, if you have hairy arms and a hairy chest, it’s a sign that you will be rich. Huck asks Jim if he has hairy arms and a hairy chest, which Jim does. Though Jim admits he isn’t rich now, he says he was once rich, recounting how he lost his money speculating in livestock and a bank. But at last, Jim thinks, he is rich now, because he owns himself, and he is worth eight hundred dollars. He wishes he had that money, because then he “wouldn’ want no mo’.”
Here Jim reveals that underlying his superstition is an expectation that bad luck is always around the corner, which is well founded considering that Jim is socioeconomically and racially oppressed. He expects bad things because he is often afflicted with bad things. Jim also reveals here how a concept like wealth is relative. Even though he is not wealthy by societal standards, he knows that he is wealthy if only because he’s free. Freedom alone makes one sufficiently rich. The concept of Jim getting $800 for himself also, though, highlights the craziness of anyone getting money for selling anyone else. Jim is worth more than $800—he’s worth an infinite amount as a human being. By having Jim value himself according to slavery’s terms, the novel shows how slavery makes no sense.