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Superstitions and Folk Beliefs in Huckleberry Finn

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Alex McKinney

on 15 September 2012

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Transcript of Superstitions and Folk Beliefs in Huckleberry Finn

Superstition and Folk Beliefs Alex McKinney & Aquileo Herrera "Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my shoulder and I flipped it off and it lit the candle......that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck, so I was scared and most shook the clothes off me." (Twain 4) In the 19th century, many people believed that every action had a repercussion that would result in either helping them in life, or hurting them. Huck at this point feels that because he flicked a spider and caused it to burn and die, the universe will cause bad luck to befall unto him. This is an excellent example of how superstition can affect his life and the way he thinks; especially so early in the novel. Huck's mind set is that he has to be careful with what he does in order to not upset the balance of his world. By killing the spider, Huck automatically thought that his life was going to have impending doom fall upon it. Huck lives his life by trying to avoid all the things that he knows will result in misfortune. "Miss Watson's nigger, Jim, had a hair-ball as big as your fist, which had been took out of a fourth stomach of an Ox, and he used to do magic with. He said there was a spirit inside of it, and it knowed all." (Twain 23) This example from the text shows not only the superstition of the time, but it also shows the folk belief. In the 19th century, many people believed in the ability to predict the the future by reading the signs given by certain tangible substances. Jim believing that his hair-ball can predict the future shows that the superstitious mindset lets him believe that what he interprets from the ball is always right. This appears to be a universal feeling, because not only Jim, but Huck also believes that his ball has divine powers. The folk belief in fortune telling is able to bring together Huck and Jim. A slave and free boy who at this point know almost nothing about each other, are brought together under a common belief. "He said it would fetch bad luck; and besides, he said, he might come and ha'nt us; he said a man that warn't buried was more likely to go a-ha'nting than one that was planted and comfortable." (Twain 67-68) A common folk belief that we see, not just in Huckleberry Finn but also in life, is that many people believe in apparitions. In Jim's and Huck's cases, ghosts were commonly accepted as real. What is interesting to look at though, is that Jim is allowing a ghost to dictate what his course of action will be. In other words, his respect for the dead is not merely out of respect for the resting soul, but for what the soul might do. His fear of a dead man's ghost coming back to haunt him shows that the supernatural world is a major concern in the folk beliefs of the time. The supernatural world is something that appeals to the superstition of Huck and Jim, and is also glorified in society. The public feels that the best way to explain why mysterious things happen is because of an upset ghost, or spirit. Jim and Huck both fall under this superstition that the general public believes in so heavily. "Jim told me to chop off the snake's head and throw it away, and then skin the body and roast a piece of it. I done it, and he eat it and said it would help cure him." (Twain 69) This does not exactly involve superstition, but more folk belief. Jim decides that in order to help counteract the poison from the snake bite, he should eat the snake that bit him. I admit that I am not an expert on snakes, but I do not think that eating the snake would heal you any faster than whatever the treatment at the time was. However, because Jim feels compelled to eat the snake skin, it may serve as a type of placebo affect. Because Jim thinks that eating the snake will help heal him, it assists in keeping him calm. Folk beliefs can sometimes have people do the strangest things that they believe help them, while others may see it as futile. Common Superstitions
In today's society, there are many superstitions that people still believe in. In hotels all across the nation, many of them do not put a 13th floor for the elevator to go to. This dates back years ago when it was considered bad luck to have a 13th floor and many customers would request not to stay on that floor.
As a child many of us were taught that if you walked under a ladder, that was considered bad luck. Walking under a ladder, dates back to when people were heavily focused on Christianity. It was believed that if you walked under a ladder, you were defying the holy trinity and were in league with Satan. We were also told that if a black cat walked in front of your path, then that was considered bad luck as well. This superstition formed when people thought that black cats were spies for demons.
Other superstitions include not being able to see the bride in her dress before the wedding. This superstition originated from the past when you used to have to make the wedding dress by hand. It was supposed to be a surprise to all but those that made it.

Therefore, even though technology has progressed tremendously over the past century, superstitions still permeate our society. Despite advancements in science, human nature wants to believe in something mystical, magical or beyond our explanation.
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