Mark Twain uses various examples of superstition in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the following presentation I will state examples of superstition from the novel, attempt to state the origin, and explain why I feel the superstition was relevant in the meaning of the novel.
The following definition of superstition is from the Webster online dictionary:
n. 1. An excessive reverence for, or fear of, that which is unknown or mysterious.
Superstition is a set of behaviors that may be faith based, or related to magical thinking, whereby the practitioner believes that the future, or the outcome of certain events, can be influenced by certain of his or her behaviors. An example is the belief that it is bad luck to wear gold and silver together.
Critics argue that superstition is not based on reason, but instead springs from religious feelings that are misdirected or unenlightened, which leads in some cases to rigor in religious opinions or practice, and in other cases to belief in extraordinary events or in charms, omens, and prognostications. Many superstitions can be prompted by misunderstandings of causality or statistics.
The following excerpt was taken from a website discussing author Mildred Haun’s take on superstition in her novel “Melungeon Colored”.
Often people do not think of superstitions as customs or an individual's way of life, but they are, as vividly portrayed by Mildred Haun in "Melungeon Colored". The true origin of superstition was found in early man's effort to explain nature and his own existence; in the desire to propitiate fate and invite fortune; in the wish to avoid evils he could not understand and attempt to pry into the future.
The "Melungeons" are a group of dark-skinned people of mixed ethnic heritage. Although the term is most commonly applied to those of eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, and southern West Virginia, it also refers to many other mixed-ancestry populations
The element of superstition the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is related to the concepts of hope and fear. Jim is a slave of the south with no formal schooling. Naturally, a person has to have hope. Hope makes one wake up in the morning and move through life with a little more ease. Creating or following superstitions is a hope that good things will come in the future, especially if Jim feels that his present lifestyle is not good. He hopes that one day he will be free. Huckleberry Finn also needs Hope. Miss Watson tries to instill religion in Huck, but he sticks to what he knows of and lives life through his ways of luck and superstition. Fear is another influence on the two. They are both running scared. They are running from the empty lives they were living. Jim fears he will be caught and be sold from his previous residence to New Orleans. He knows Miss Watson treats him pretty well and fears he we will be treated worse elsewhere. Huck fears his selfish, alcoholic father who only wants him for his money. If he got caught he would either have to live with his father or back with the widow and Miss Watson whose lifestyles were completely different than what he was accustomed to.
Superstition of Snakes
The poisonous snake on Navajo land was a real threat to Navajos and their livestock. The snake is also a symbol of the lightning people and brings rain to the dry land. While the only significant venomous snakes present are the rattlesnakes, all snakes are avoided. Snakes are seen in Navajo sand paintings and other artworks.
Do not touch a snake because it has nothing and you will have nothing.
In chapter X, Jim and Huck are discussing how Jim says that it is bad luck to touch a snakeskin with your hands. Huck doesn’t believe him because they found money in an overcoat they took from a house that was tilted on its side from the flood. Jim tells Huck that it’s coming to him. Then, Huck plays a prank on Jim and curls a dead snake up and puts it by Jim’s feet while he is sleeping. The snake’s mate comes and bites Jim. This gives the two reason to believe the superstition. They believe that Jim getting bitten by the snake was a result of Huck touching the snakeskin. Why wouldn’t you believe this? Because of the events, it seems that this is cause and effect.
Spilling the Salt
The Ancient Greeks believed that salt was sacred and a repository of life itself because of its preservative qualities, and consequently used it in their sacrificial cakes and preparations. They also believed it to be a symbol of friendship, and if any was spilled it was an omen of the end of a friendship. Among some peoples it was the custom to pay workers in amounts of salt, hence our modern word salary, from salarium. Later beliefs had it that evil spirits dwelt on the left-hand side of the body and so began the custom of throwing spilt salt over your left shoulder (and into their eyes).
In chapter IV Huck talks about spilling the salt at breakfast. He tries to throw it over his shoulder to “keep off the bad luck” but Miss Watson is there and won’t let him. He states that Miss Watson put in a good word for him. Considering Miss Watson is a religious woman, I assume this means she will pray for him. She may have made this statement to sway Huck’s opinion from beliefs of superstition to her preference, which is religion. However, Huck’s spirits are lowered and he is on the watch out for his bad luck all day. Huck’s negative feelings are prominent because he is not happy with his living situation. He tries not to do things that will give him bad luck, and if he does, he has a ritual (throwing the salt over his left shoulder) that is supposed to cancel out the bad omen. Ultimately, he hopes for a good luck omen so that things will get better. This shows the difference between Huck and Miss Watson’s beliefs. Huck has not learned anything about religion, only the little she has taught him, so he bases his knowledge on things that he has heard from other people and along his travels.
The superstitions that are believed by Huck and Jim represent their lives and the negativity in them. They constantly live in fear that their lives will continue on the negative path they have been following. They may believe their lives are destined to be of ill fate and they have to follow certain rituals to make them better. Bad things that happen prove in their minds that the superstitions are true. Therefore they continue to believe. They can only hope for omens of good luck and continue to carry out their rituals in order to stay alive and well.
This entry continued from a discussion that began in class. It was great because we ran out of time in class and I had the opportunity to continue. Also, Melissa commented and it started a discussion of our shared thoughts.
A presentation on Emerson made me really think. This blog includes my thoughts on conformity/non-conformity and also relates something personal in my daily life.
I never would have found a connection between Emerson and Bartleby the Scrivener if it weren't for Stephan's presentation. This blog connects the two.
I asked a question in this blog...maybe noone read it. However, it also states my adoration for the poem.
I explain a little about myself in this entry.
I made a comment on Sara's blog about Bartleby...
Zach enlightened on the symbol of the bridge in Occurrence at Owl..
I commented on sorrow and beauty on katie's blog about the Raven.
I commented on Shanna's wildcard and told her to check out one of my blogs.
As I was reading Shanna's wildcard blog, it inspired me to write a blog about myself also. I am 24 yr's old, born and raised in Connellsville. I have 2 older brothers, one lives here as well...the other, a make-up artist at Bloomingdales in Manhattan. I have an Elementary Ed. degree and am currently substitute teaching for Connellsville and Southmoreland School Districts. I am attending Seton Hill to get my Art Ed. certification...art is my passion.
I am into astrology (It must be a Scorpio thing Shanna) and I LOVELOVELOVE to dance. I enjoy meditating to relax myself because I am like one big stressball all the time. The winter time is my time to go snowboarding (only when it's not too cold. I hate the winter). My favorite place to go is the beach. My dream is to one day own a beach house with big picture windows, so I can sit and gaze out at the ocean while I paint. Also, since I am a prospective teacher I will have my entire summer to lie on the beach and chill!
My absolute favorite poem from the poetry slam was Shanna's reading of How Happy is the Little Stone, by Emily Dickinson. Shanna did a great job by using the plain little stone as a prop.
This poem is short and simple, but makes a great point. I looked up the word exigencies to get a better interpretation of the poem. The definition I found that best fit was #3: urgent reqirements; pressing needs. Often used in the plural.
This line explains how the stone has no needs...no urgent demans (like most people have). This poem is perfect for college students, because we have all these demands on us from parents, professors, employers and peers. We stress about our complicated lives. We should be more like the sun which "associates or glows alone". This to me means that maybe the sun "mingles" with clouds or rain or birds in the sky...or it sometime stands alone, when the sky is clear. The only thing I don't understand about this poem is the last phrase "Fulfilling absloute decree In casual simplicity". I looked up the word decree and most, if not all the definitions, had to do with law. Maybe it has to do with the mere existence of the stone. Could anyone explain this to me? It would help me better understand and appreciate this poem.
Wow! Now that I have read Emerson's essay, Self-reliance I put two and two together and found a comparison to Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener. The narrator, as well as the other characters, is the prime example of conformists.
"The narrator's initial self-characterization is important to the story. He is a "safe" man, one who takes few risks and tries above all to conform". I found this quote in an analysis of the story. http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/bartleby/fullsumm.html
They go through their daily routine on Wall Street. None of them seem happy. The narrator is a lawyer, but the story never mentions of him in a courtroom. That would be exciting. Instead, he spends day after day in a boring office with "windows (that) commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall". Even his employees with their strange idiosyncrasies, have developed a pattern in the office which would be very routine and monotonous. This story has a very depressing tone about it. Is it their negative attitudes? Is it that they have settled for unambitious jobs that lack room for advancement? Is it that they have conformed to a societal routine in which they've found themselves stuck? Do we find ourselves reliant on this routine? Is this why Bartleby died, because he had become so dependent on the "comfort" of his job; and when he no longer had the familiarity of his fellow employees and his employer that he could no longer live?
I wanted to write my comments regarding Stephan’s presentation on Emerson from Monday’s class. I love how Emerson does not agree with conformity. I think everyone wants to be an individual. However, I think many people conform by not conforming. Some people try way too hard to be different and maybe they are not conforming to the social majority but they are still categorizing themselves. Why try to be anything? Be yourself.
Too often, I lose myself in what is so called “socially acceptable”. Getting up early, going to work, coming home, doing laundry, yada, yada, yada. It’s annoying. I feel like a robot some days…just going through the motions of life. Emerson says in his essay, Self-Reliance, “…the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease, in answer to conversation which does not interest us”. Hence…my waitress job! But in reality, a lot of these boring, routine things are what we have to do in order to survive comfortably. Everyone’s comfort level is different though. It’s all in what makes one happy.
I did however find an outlet from the monotonous schedule and that’s meditation…time for yourself, time to reflect. Instead of always thinking we have to “do” all the time we should just “be”. Some people get bored when they are alone or not being “entertained”. You’d be surprised…you learn more about yourself, who you are, and what you want out of life when you are not really thinking about it. It’s an escape. You can still have your own individual beliefs and still do the “societal routine” every once in a while too. I think the best way is a combination…a happy medium for each individual. Here are some link…Just BE! Check them out. Happy meditating!