Over the next few months, Huck begins to adjust to his new life and even makes some progress in school. One winter morning, he notices boot tracks in the snow near the house. Within one heel print is the shape of two nails crossed to ward off the devil. Huck immediately recognizes this mark and runs to Judge Thatcher. Huck sells his fortune (the money he and Tom recovered in
That night, Huck goes to Jim, who claims to possess a giant, magical hairball from an ox’s stomach. Huck tells Jim that he has found Pap’s tracks in the snow and wants to know what his father wants. Jim says that the hairball needs money to talk, so Huck gives Jim a counterfeit quarter. Jim puts his ear to the hairball and relates that Huck’s father has two angels, one black and one white, one bad and one good. It is uncertain which angel will win out, but Huck is safe for now. He will have much happiness and sorrow in his life, he will marry a poor woman and then a rich woman, and he should stay clear of the water, since that is where he will die. That night, Huck finds Pap waiting for him in his bedroom.
Pap is a frightening sight. The nearly fifty-year-old man’s skin is a ghastly, disgusting white. Noticing Huck’s “starchy” clothes, Pap wonders out loud if Huck thinks himself better than his father and promises to take Huck “down a peg.” Pap promises to teach Widow Douglas not to “meddle” and is outraged that Huck has become the first person in his family to learn to read. Pap asks if Huck is really as rich as he has heard and calls his son a liar when Huck replies that he has no more money. Pap then takes the dollar that Huck got from Judge Thatcher and leaves to buy whiskey.
The next day, Pap shows up drunk and demands Huck’s money from Judge Thatcher. The Judge and Widow Douglas try to get custody of Huck but give up after the new judge in town refuses to separate a father and son. Pap eventually lands in jail after a drunken spree. The new judge takes Pap into his home and tries to reform him, but the judge and his wife prove to be very weepy and moralizing. Pap tearfully repents his ways but soon gets drunk again, and the new judge decides that the only way to reform Pap is with a shotgun.
Pap sues Judge Thatcher for Huck’s fortune and continues to threaten Huck about attending school. Huck continues to attend, partly to spite his father. Pap goes on one drunken binge after another. One day, he kidnaps Huck, takes him deep into the woods to a secluded cabin on the Illinois shore, and locks Huck inside all day while he rambles outside. Eventually, Huck finds an old saw, makes a hole in the wall, and resolves to escape from both Pap and the Widow Douglas, but Pap returns as Huck is about to break free.
Pap complains that Judge Thatcher has delayed the trial to prevent him from getting Huck’s wealth. He has heard that his chances of getting the money are good but that he will probably lose the fight for custody of Huck. Pap continues to rant about a mixed-race man in town; Pap is disgusted that the man is allowed to vote in his home state of Ohio, and that legally he cannot be sold into slavery until he has been in Missouri six months. Later, Pap wakes from a drunken sleep and chases after Huck with a knife, calling him the “Angel of Death” but stopping when he passes out. Huck holds a rifle pointed at his sleeping father and waits.
In these chapters, Twain makes a number of comments on the society of his time and its attempts at reform. We see a number of well-meaning individuals who engage in foolish, even cruel behavior. The new judge in town refuses to give custody of Huck to Judge Thatcher and the Widow, despite Pap’s history of neglect and abuse. This poorly informed decision not only makes us question the wisdom and morality of these public figures but also resonates with the plight of slaves in Southern society at the time. The new judge in town returns Huck to Pap because he privileges Pap’s “rights” over Huck’s welfare—just as slaves, because they were considered property, were regularly returned to their legal owners, no matter how badly these owners abused them. Twain also takes the opportunity to mock the bleeding-heart do-gooders of the temperance, or anti-alcohol, movement: the judge is clearly naïve, misguided, and blind to the larger evils around him, and the weeping and moralizing that goes on in his home is grating, to say the least.
Throughout these chapters, Huck is at the center of countless failures and breakdowns in the society around him, yet he maintains his characteristic resilience. Indeed, Huck’s family, the legal system, and the community all fail to protect him or to provide a set of beliefs and values that are consistent and satisfying to him. Huck’s wrongful imprisonment elicits sympathy and concern on our part, even though this imprisonment does not seem to distress Huck in the least. Sadly, Huck is so used to social abuses by this point in his life that he has no reason to prefer one set of abuses over the other. Likewise, although Pap is a hideous, hateful man in nearly every respect, Huck does not immediately abandon him when given the chance. Pap is, after all, Huck’s father, and Huck is still a fairly young boy. Ultimately, Pap’s kidnapping of Huck provides an opportunity for Huck to break from this society that has done him harm.
Pap, the embodiment of pure evil, is one of Twain’s most memorable characters. Because we have no background information to explain his present state, his role is primarily symbolic. The deathly pallor of his skin, which is nauseating to Huck, makes Pap emblematic of whiteness. Unfortunately, Pap represents the worst of white society: he is illiterate, ignorant, violent, and profoundly racist. The mixed-race man who visits the town contrasts Pap in every way: he is a clean-cut, knowledgeable, and seemingly politically conscious professor. In establishing the contrast between Pap and the mixed-race man, Twain overturns traditional symbolism of his time and implies that whiteness, not blackness, is associated with evil. Jim’s vision of Pap’s two angels and Huck’s two future wives extends this sense of confusion over good and bad, human and inhuman, right and wrong in Huck’s world. At this point, Jim is unclear as to which will win, and even less clear about which