Superstition, a word that is often used to explain bad luck, misfortune, the super natural, and the world that is not known. In the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, superstition played an important role that resurfaces several times throughout the book. A belief that a hair ball can tell the future, a loaf of bread containing quicksilver can point out a dead carcass, and touching a snake skin with bare hands will give you the worst bad luck, are all examples of some of the superstitions found in the book.

“Miss Watson’s n******, 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 and it knowed everything.”

This quote, taken from chapter four of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a great example of how superstitious the people of the time were. The hairball’s significance to the novel is seen in both the characters of Jim and Huck. Jim is an uneducated slave who does not have much knowledge.

He is very ignorant and is easy to believe things. Not only does he believe that this hairball has magic spirits, but he is also fooled by Huck many times during the novel. You would think because of him being an uneducated slave, and Huck being the white boy who has had some schooling, that their beliefs in this superstitious hairball would differ.

This is not true as seen when Huck is the one that comes to Jim for the powers of the Hairball. Huck wanted to know what his father, Pap, was going to do. Huck had found out earlier that Pap was back in Town. Both Huck and Jim are very superstitious as most of the people were then. There were not a lot of the modern technologies that we have today to prove many superstitions false.

The hairball really does not tell Huck anything that he really already did not know. It only told him that his father did not know what to do. It only told him general things such as, you are going to get hurt, but then you will get better. This episode with the hairball shows that even though Huck has some sort of education, he and Jim may be more similar than either one would admit.

Another superstition that most all of the people then believed had to do with a loaf of bread and some quicksilver. “I only had a bite to eat. Well, then I happened to think how they always put quicksilver in loaves of bread and float them off because they always go right to the drowned carcass.” Luckily for this superstition, a loaf of bread happened to float right by him, and he had breakfast. Since the bread did in dead float to him, maybe the old belief had some truth in it. After all, he was really supposed to be dead and the bread did seek him out.

This episode forth illustrated the point that almost all of the people were superstitious. The whole town believed the loaves would find the body. Again, they had no way of knowing why it would work or why it would not. If you put enough loaves of bread out there, one of them is bound to find a carcass somewhere.

Huck finding the bread really helped move the novel along. If he had not been able to get the bread to eat, he might have left the shore in seek of food. If this had happened there would never have been a scene where he sees all of the towns on the steamboat searching for his dead body.

A final point to this episode is the widow and her praying. During most of the book, Huck did not believe praying did much of anything at all. After all, he had prayed for many things in the past and never got them. This time he thought maybe there actually was something to the praying of the widow.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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