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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER 4: The Hair Ball Oracle
It is almost winter and Huck, who hated school in the beginning, slowly gets used to it. He learns to read and write, but realizes that he has no head for math. He also gradually gets used to the widow’s ways, although he is still uncomfortable sleeping on a bed or living in a proper house. To get some “real” rest, he at times slides out of the window and sleeps in the woods. Now that it is winter, he can no longer do that.
One morning, Huck turns over the salt shaker and spills the salt. He thinks that he is in for some ill luck. He goes around looking for signs of bad luck and sure enough, he finds a new set of footprints in the snow; on the left boot heel, there is a cross made of nails, a sign to keep away the devil. He knows the bootprints belong to Pap. He immediately rushes to the house of Judge Thatcher, who asks him if he has come to collect his interest. Huck replies in the negative and tries to give the Judge his money, both the principal and the interest. Huck offers no explanations.
Huck goes to Miss Watson’s servant Jim, who has a hairball that he uses to predict the future. Jim claims that there is a spirit inside it that can foretell upcoming events. Huck tells Jim that his pap is back in town and wants to know what he is up to and whether he is going to stay. Taking out the ball, Jim says something over it and waits for it to reveal its secrets; but nothing happens. Jim tries to get a prediction several more times, but without success.
Jim tells Huck that the hairball will surely speak if money is offered. Huck takes out a counterfeit quarter and gives it to Jim, who puts it under the hairball and listens. After a few moments, Jim says the hairball has “talked” to him. He explains that there are two angels hovering over Huck, one white and the other black. The white one will lead him to the right path, and the black one will bring obstacles. Huck’s life will be a combination of good times and bad times. Finally, the hairball has warned Huck to keep away from water as much as possible. That night, Huck knows he is in for some bad times. When he goes up to his room after supper, he finds his pap waiting for him.
Although Huck is attending school and has learned to read and write, he is still not comfortable with his new lifestyle at Widow Douglas’ house. The bed is too hard, the clothes are too confining, and life is too structured. Sometimes, to get away from it all and get some rest, Huck sneaks out of his window and goes to sleep in the woods. It is important that Twain shows that Huck has not acclimated to the confines of life in proper society. It prepares the reader for Huck’s later rejection of society.
In this chapter, Huck again shows his sensible, practical side. He realizes that his father is in town when he sees a set of bootprints in the fresh snow. He knows this means trouble. Huck also knows his father will try to take all of his money, so he rushes over to Judge Thatcher’s house and tries to get the Judge to claim the money as his own to prevent persecution by Pap. Huck also realizes that a father has the right to a son’s property, and he does not want Pap to have the money. Huck’s common sense will serve him well later in the novel.
In spite of his sensibility, Huck again proves his superstitious nature in this chapter. When he spills the salt, he knows it foretells ill luck. He throws some of the salt over his shoulder to try and ward off the bad things. When he late sees the bootprints in the snow, he knows it is related to his spilling of the salt. Then after handling the practical aspect of things with Judge Thatcher, Huck rushes to Jim to have him “read” the hairball and see what will happen with his pap. Jim’s reading of the hairball is significant because it reverses conventional symbolism. Jim tells Huck that there are two angels, one white and one black; conventional symbolism would dictate that the black angel is bad, but in this novel, Jim becomes the black “angel” who takes care of Huck. Furthermore, the prohibition against water is inverted; it is water that allows Huck’s liberation. .