In "To Kill a Mockingbird," what is a "hot steam"?
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A "hot steam" refers to a Southern superstition concerning ghosts, particular the souls of restless spirits which have some kind of account to settle before truly 'resting in peace.' Both Jem and Scout were afraid that a hot steam would suck the soul out of them (very much like the Harry Potter "Death-Eaters!") if they didn't hold their breath while repeating an incantation to ward them off.
To Kill a Mockingbird is laced with such allusions. I find the following site particulary helpful in 'decoding' such terms.
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