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The Supersitions In The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn Essay, Research Paper

James 1

Chad James

Mrs. Cofer

American Literature

3 December 1999

Supersitions in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

People by their own nature are superstitious and terrified of things, objects, and

events they do not understand. The South, more prodominately evident in supersition

than anyplace in the United States. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn identifiable

elements of supersition gives this novel its flavor as they serve complex purposes

(Cohen 854). Samuel Clemmings, better known as Mark Twain, which he grew up in

the South was able to draw conclusions and familiarty with supersitions in writing The

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain uses his great knowledge of folklore,

supersition, and myth through two main characters, Huckleberry Finn and Jim, and their

roles with the supersition of the South.

Supersitions, by, definition are the supernatural beliefs that some disdain but

other’s accept (Cohen 854). Mark Twain charmed audiences all over the world

because he knew from his memories of folklife that the way the tale is told is as

important as the tale itself (Cohen 853). Twain expressed these features of supersition

excellently in Hucklebery Finn and Jim. Mark Twain does not view supersition with

disdain, and he uses supersitions to develop Huck and Jim and the story throughout his

novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. To understand how Twain uses the

supersition, the person must understand Twain’s childhood as how he was brought up

and where he grew up.

Hannibal, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi River is where Twain’s family

moved when he was only four years old. Growing up on the Mississippi River, Mark

James 2

Twain experienced many things, and became exposed to supersition. Mark Twain built

on folklore and consciously intergated Southern supersitions, language, customs, and

folklore in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Ferris 456). Folk customs and some

rituals helped to structure living in the South (Ferris 456). Twain was surrounded by

these myths, supersitions, and folklore which gave him the the structure for such a

great novel, with high knowledge abouth the surroundings and its was of life. Folklore

in literature is not folklore in the raw. Certainly a folktale told in its natural habbiat is art

of its own kind, but literacy art is another kind of preformance (Cohen 853).

Twain belived in signs and portents. He was born in 1835 when Halley’s Comet

was making one of its 75-year apperances and once said he would go out with its

return- he died on April 21, 1910, one day after it had reached its perihelion (Kaplan

386). Twain belived in his dreams and that they will come true. Twain also belived in

fortune tellers and faith healing through God. The supersitions that made Tom Sawyer

and Huckleberry Finn tremble and exult never died in Mark Twain (Wood 83).

Jim played the biggest part in supersition, which effected the mood swings of the

characters. Jim believed in witches, ghost, weather signs, omens, and dreams (Cohen

854). On the river with Huckleberry Finn, Jim becomes a free living man, and when he

puts his supersitions to work, they become effectual. This natural world has a place

for the supernatural, and Jim’s supersitions saved his own life and Huckleberry Finns’,

ultimately make possible Huck’s spritual salvation as well (Cohen 854). In the second

chapter of the book, Huckleberry Finn describes Jim’s five center piece he wears round

his neck, given to him by the devil, with which he can call witches to cure anybody

(Twain 6). Cohen writes by the end of the novel Jim becomes not simply a rounded

character, but the spiritual center of the book (854).

James 3

Another example of Jim’s supersitious nature is when he tells Huckleberry Finn:

“Dah, now, Huck, what I tell you up da on Jackson islan’?

I tole you I got a hair breas’, en whats de sign unt it, en I

tole ya I been rich wunst, en gwineter be rich agin, en its

come true; eh heah she is! Dah, now! doan’ talk to me -

signs is signs, mine I tell you, en I knowed jis’ ’s well at I’uz

gwizenter be rich agin as I’s a stannin’ heah did minute!”

(Twain 314).

Throughout the novel Jim displays a dazzling powers over signs. Jim finds signification

everywhere, from the hair on his breast to the figments in his dreams, and his ability to

“read” these signs give him a sense of control over his own fate (Kearns 109).

Huckleberry Finn was the other main character affected with supersistion in the

novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. During Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s

traveling down the Mississippi River, Huckleberry Finn gets taught a lot of things about

supersitions. Jim had a big influence on Huckleberry Finn’s actions towards the

supersitions. Kearns believes Huckleberry Finn is troubled in a way Jim is not by the

implications of determinism, or a lack of free will, that comes with the belief in

supersitions. Huckleberry Finn recoginzes that both he and Jim are far more implicated

in the making of the codes they pretended merely to “read” than his partner would

seem to admit even though this recognition leaves him in an uncomfortable position of

entanglement and uncertainly (111).

During Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s trip down the Mississippi River, Jim takes

advantage of Hucklebery Finn by not telling him that he had seen Pap’s body dead in

the river. Jim was really just trying to protect Huckleberry Finn from getting hurt with his

James 4

emontions. Jim tries to keep Hucklebery Finn safe the whole trip, Jim sorta treated him

like is own son. trying to keep him out of trouble and danger. This natural world has a

place for the supernatural, and Jim’s supersitions saved his own life and Huck’s and

ultimately make possible Huckleberry Finn’s spritiual salvation as well (Cohen 854).

Jim’s love for children might have caused him to want to protect Huck from what he felt

would be a tragedy (Roberts 29).

Huckleberry Finn learns from Jim’s supersition. Huckleberry Finn does not

in the snakeskin, until the snakeskin does work. Jim tells Huckleberry Finn that you

are not spouse to touch a snakeskin with bare hands. Snake functions in African and

New World Negro folklore only as a minor character, except in the case of the well-

known story of animals gratitude of human aid, where in some areas this creature is a

protagonist (Krappe 1029).In the end, the reader is fully aware of how the supersitions

can mold a person’s beliefs and control his or her actions.

Many people become controlled by supersitions. When people walk under

ladders, black cats, Friday the 13th, broken glass, umbrella inside, and lucky charms

they get reminded by these supersitions. Are they true or just a myth? People still ask

themselves these questions. Mark Twain uses such great supersitions in the The

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain puts together the beliefs in signs and

supersition to true friendship. To truly know and understand Huckleberry Finn and Jim

is to understand their realtionship and friendship to one another, and how Twain uses

Jim as the character that combines Jim and Huckleberry Finn together.


Work Cited

Cohen, Hennig. “Folklore in Literature.” Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Eds.

Charles Reagon Wilson and William Ferris. Chapel Hill: University of North

Carolina Press, 1989.

Ferris, William. “Folklife.” Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Eds. Charles Reagon

Wilson and William Ferris. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,


Kearns, Cleo McNelly. “The Limits Of Semiotics.” Mark Twain’s The Adventures of

Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,


Krappe, Alexander H. “Snake” Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore

Mythology and Legend. volume 2: J-Z. Ed. Maria Leach. New York: A Division

of Reader’s Digest Books Inc., 1950.

Roberts, James L. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Notes. Ed. Gary Carey.

Lincoln, Nebraska: Clif Notes, 1971.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Wood, James Playstead. Spunkwater, Spunkwater! A Life of Mark Twain. New York:

Pantheon Books, 1968.

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