The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 3 Summary

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

In Chapter 3 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck sees through the lies Tom has been telling and finds out something disturbing about his father. He also tries to come to terms with the Widow's and Miss Watson's ideas about religion.


Huckleberry Finn has been living with the Widow Douglas and having adventures with his friend, Tom Sawyer. In Chapter 1, he describes life with the Widow and why he feels the need to escape it sometimes. In Chapter 2, Tom Sawyer proposes making a band of robbers, which Huck eagerly joins. The boys stay out all night, and Huck barely makes it back into bed before dawn.

Giving Up On Religion

When Huck returns from his adventure with Tom, his clothes are a wreck. The Widow Douglas is upset, and she insists they pray together. Huck tries to pray. He prays for fishhooks, and is upset when he doesn't get them. The Widow tells Huck to pray for spiritual gifts, but he can't see the use of those. He starts to think praying is a waste of time. He tells Miss Watson, the Widow's sister, to pray for him, and she tells him that he is a fool.

Huck mulls over the ideas of religion and praying. He wonders why bad things happen to good people if praying works, and he is puzzled about the difference between the Widow's idea of heaven and Miss Watson's. He decides he'd vastly prefer the Widow's, but that he won't be better off in either place than he is here. He gives up on the idea altogether.

The Body in the River

Huck's father hasn't been seen in more than a year. To Huck, that is a good thing. Huck's father is often drunk, and always mean. When Pa was sober, he often beat Huck, so Huck spent the majority of his time hiding in the woods. Huck would be happy if Pa never came back.

One day, a body is discovered in the river. It's dressed in rags with long hair, so everyone assumes it's Pa, though the face is too deteriorated to tell. But Huck doesn't believe it. The body was found floating face-up, and Huck believes that only women float face-up. He concludes that the body was that of a woman in man's clothing, and is sure his Pa will turn up one day. Huck dreads it.

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in a 1920 movie adaptation
Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in a 1920 movie adaptation

The Sunday School Picnic

Huck and the other boys are fed up with Tom Sawyer and his band of robbers. They only play at robbing, and have done no more than scare people in carriages and pretend sticks are swords. No one has been killed or even robbed yet. The boys want to quit the band.

To placate them, Tom tells his band that he knows a caravan of rich Spaniards and Arabs is heading their way with camels and elephants. They'll rob the caravan of its riches and diamonds. Huck has no faith that a bunch of boys with sticks can beat this caravan, but he wants to see the camels and elephants, so he shows up at the appointed time, as do all the other boys.

Unfortunately for their robbery plans, it is only a Sunday school picnic for a bunch of little kids. Huck and the others rush out and scare the little kids away, but their only 'treasures' are doughnuts, jam, and a rag doll. Then, the Sunday school teachers return and force the 'robbers' to run away.

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