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MonkeyNotes Study Guide-Huckleberry Finn-Huck Finn-Free Booknotes Synopsis
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CHAPTER 3: We Ambuscade the Arabs


Miss Watson scolds Huck for getting his clothes dirty, but the Widow merely takes them away and washes them. This makes Huck decide that he is going to behave, if only for the widow’s sake. Miss Watson makes him pray for his misdeeds, but he does not see its use. She tells him to pray everyday, for his prayers will be answered. He wonders, if one could get anything wished for, then why did the widow not get back her stolen snuff box or Deacon Winn get back the money he had lost. In spite of his questions, he tries praying for some fishhooks, but without any success. He thinks that there is some link that is missing in this puzzle and goes back to Miss Watson and asks her. She replies that it is not material things that one can gain from God, but “spiritual gifts,” which also makes no sense to Huck.

Huck thinks that there are two kinds of providences, one for the widow and the other for Miss Watson.

Huck hears that a man’s body has been found floating in the river. Many of the townspeople think that it is Huck’s Pap, but they cannot be sure because the face is so bloated that it is unrecognizable. Huck is not saddened at the news and feels certain that it is not his father. Even though he has not seen him in a year, Huck believes that he will again show up some day to beat him and treat him poorly.

Tom and his gang play at being robbers, but obviously do not steal or murder. Their worst action is to raid a picnic. Huck grows disgusted with Tom’s “pretending” and resigns from the gang; one by one, the others follow Huck’s lead. Tom argues with Huck about the importance of being imaginative, playing games, and believing in magic and tells Huck he should read Don Quixote. He also explains to Huck how genies can come out of a lamp that is rubbed. Huck wants a genie of his own and rubs a lamp until his hands ache; still no genie appears. Huck decides that everything that Tom tells is a lie.


The chapter opens by once again contrasting the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. When Huck comes home once more with dirty clothes, the nagging Miss Watson scolds him for his careless ways. The kind Widow Douglas does not offer a word of criticism; she merely takes Huck’s clothes and washes them. When the Widow Douglas talks about religion, she speaks of heaven and other wonderful things; when Miss Watson speaks of religion, she warns about the devil and talks about damnation. Because of the differences in their basic personalities, it is not surprising that Miss Watson owns a Negro slave while Widow Douglas does not. It is also not surprising that in the last chapter Huck chose to offer Miss Watson as a sacrifice to the gang, not the Widow Douglas.

This chapter also contrasts Huck’s pragmatic and literal mind against Tom’s romantic inclinations. In the beginning of the chapter, the practical Huck cannot understand why the widow’s snuff box and the deacon’s money have not been returned if prayer is always answered, as he is told by Miss Watson. When she explains that God answers prayer about spiritual gifts, Huck cannot understand why material gifts cannot be received through prayer if other gifts can. Huck also cannot understand why Tom’s gang only pretends to be robbers and murderers. He quickly tires of the game playing and resigns from the gang. The romantic Tom tries to explain the value of imagination and magic to him, but the practical and realistic Huck does not understand. When Tom tells Huck about genies, he rubs a lamp until his hands hurt. When the genie does not appear, Huck feels Tom has lied to him.

Another quality of Huck that is developed in this chapter is his acceptance of people. He is not concerned how society judges a person, he simply accepts them for who they are. It is important that this quality of Huck is established, for it later allows him to accept a slave as a true friend, something that society would never permit.

It is important to notice two things surrounding the body found floating in the river. First, it introduces the Mississippi as a powerful and awesome force, which Huck and Jim will fully feel as they escape down the river. Additionally, Huck takes a very pragmatic approach to the news that the body may be his Pap. Since his father represents only instability and cruelty to Huck, he is not bothered by the fact that perhaps it is his father who has drowned. Also Huck does not really think his dad is dead, but feels certain that he will appear again, which foreshadows Pap’s later appearance in the novel.

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