Thursday, April 14, 2016

Superstitions in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Superstition in Chapter 1: “Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my shoulder, and I slipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I could budge it was all shriveled up. I didn't need anybody to tell me that that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck, so I was scared and most shook the clothes off of me. I got up and turned around in my tracks three times and crossed my breast every time; and then I tied up a little lock of my hair to keep witches away."

Analysis: The spider crawling up the shoulder doesn't seem to directly lead to any specific problem, most likely on account of the ritual Huck performs shortly after. The mentioning of bad luck so early in the novel foreshadows impending bad events.

Superstition in Chapter 2: “Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State, and then set him under the trees again and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it."

Analysis: Twain ridicules American Romantics for their fascination with the supernatural by showing a confounded Jim attempting to explain what happened to his hat. It may also be a veiled attempt at religious beliefs of the day.

Superstition in Chapter 3: “I knowed might well that a drowned man didn't float on his back, but on his face. So I knowed, then, that this warn't pap, but a woman dressed up in man's clothes."

Analysis: Huck and Jim use superstitions to make sense of the world, even if it makes no sense. Huck viewed religion the same way we view his superstitions.

Superstition in Chapter 4: “Jim had a hairball as big as your fist, which had been took out of the fourth stomach of an ox, and he used to do magic with it. He said there was a spirit inside of it that knowed everything. So I went to him that night..."

Analysis: That's humorous. Note how Huck feels more comfortable going to Jim to solve his problems than he does going to Widow Douglas or Tom Sawyer.

Superstition in Chapter 8: “And Jim said you mustn't count the things you are going to cook for dinner, because that would bring bad luck. The same if you shook the table-cloth after sundown. And he said if a man owned a bee-hive, and that man died, the bees must be told about it before sun-up the next morning, or else the bees would all weaken down and quit work and die."

Analysis: The system of superstitions and rituals is quite extensive.

Superstitions in Chapter 10: 

“You said it was the worst bad luck in the world to touch a snakeskin in my hands." 
“And he said that handling a snake-skin was such awful bad luck that maybe we hadn't got to the end of it yet. He said he druther see the new moon over his left shoulder as much as a thousand times than take up a snake-skin in his hand."

Superstition in Chapter 16: “Anybody that don't believe yet, that it's foolishness to handle a snake-skin, after all that that snake-skin done for us, will believe it now, if they read on and see what more it done for us." 

Analysis: Handling a dead snake-skin is the mother of all superstitions and apparently leads Jim and Huck into all sorts of bad luck adventures.

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