Superstition in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Examples & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Superstition abounds in Mark Twain's ''Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'' In this lesson, we'll look at some examples of these and some quotes from the book that illustrate how superstitious different characters are.

Superstition

Have you ever held your breath when you walked past a graveyard? Or refused to walk under a ladder because it might bring you bad luck? If so, you might be considered a superstitious person. Superstition is the belief in something that isn't supported by scientific reason or 'rational' explanation. In Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there are many examples of superstition, particularly in the characters Huck and Jim.

Bad Luck

Many of the instances of superstition in the novel are based on something happening that might bring bad luck or, less often, good fortune. In the very first chapter, Huck accidentally flicks a spider into a candle flame. When this happens, he comments: '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.' (4) Huck tries to fix the situation by turning around three times, crossing himself, and tying a lock of his hair in a knot to keep witches away. However, he is worried that this won't be enough because this remedy is usually for a different kind of bad luck, gotten from losing a horseshoe you've found.

Jim, the runaway slave who accompanies Huck throughout most of the novel, is a fountain of information about things that can cause bad luck. He tells Huck of many of these, such as talking about a dead man or touching a rattlesnake skin. In the case of the snakeskin, Jim's prediction actually comes true--having the snakeskin attracts another snake, and Jim gets bitten. Later they face many difficulties, and Huck restates Jim's prediction afterwards, saying: '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...' (100)

Good Fortune

Clearly Huck believes the superstition about the snakeskin and blames it for the troubles he and Jim have run into since they found it. Jim tells Huck that there aren't a lot of signs to predict good fortune. He reasons that you don't really need them. If good fortune is coming, what good does a sign do, since you don't want to avoid it? One sign he does talk about is that having hairy arms and a hairy chest means you will be rich someday. This, like the snakeskin, comes true for him. Jim notes his own hairy arms and chest and is eventually freed, which he counts just as good as becoming rich.

Witches, the Devil, and Spirits

Witches are mentioned several times in the novel. Huck ties up a lock of his hair to keep witches away. Tom and Huck play a trick on Jim where they take his hat off his head while he is sleeping and hang it on a branch. They also take some candlesticks and leave five cents to pay for them. When Jim wakes, he blames witches for moving his hat, and embellishes his story, claiming that the five cent piece was given to him by the devil. He says he is able to use it to cure people and summon witches whenever he wants. Witches are again mentioned at Aunt Sally's place near the end of the novel. One of her slaves, Nat, blames witches multiple times for harassing him, whenever he thinks he is hearing or seeing something that's not really there.The devil reappears in the sole of a shoe: Huck's father has a cross made of nails in the heel of his boot to keep the devil away.

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