How are the townspeople superstitious in chapter 8-11?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Superstition is a constant motif throughout the novel, shown as pervading the society of the South. One example from these chapters is the search for Huck's body. He is awoken by the sound of cannons firing, which is supposed to bring a dead body to the surface. This seems to be a satiric treatment of the theme of superstition, particularly since the participants are the educated townspeople. In addition to the cannons, the townspeople load a loaf of bread with mercury, which is also supposed to locate the body. Ironically, the floating bread on the water finds Huck as it was meant to do.

In Chapter 10 superstition is evident again, particularly when the rattlesnake bites Jim. The morning after seeing the floating house, Huck wants to discuss the dead man, but Jim says talking about it will bring bad luck. Although he is simply covering for the fact that the dead man was Huck's father, he is using superstition to do so. Huck argues that touching a snakeskin with his hands was supposed to have brought bad luck too, but instead they found all those useful items in the floating house, including money. However, the bad luck is revealed when Huck plays a joke on Jim by putting a dead rattlesnake in his blanket. When Jim goes to bed, the snake’s mate is curling around the dead snake and bites Jim in the heel. Jim thinks his bad luck is attributed to the fact that Huck touched a snakeskin with his bare hands a few days ago, but Huck knows the real reason. He is aware that he acted irresponsibly when he put the dead rattlesnake in Jim’s blanket for a joke. Although it is too late, he remembers that the mate of a dead snake will come later and curl around it.

While some of the superstitions play out in the novel, Twain makes his audience aware that he is mocking these beliefs and revealing the folly of those who live by them. According to him, it is the same kind of thinking which leads to racism and slavery.

 

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