Religion Versus Superstition in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Novel by Mark Twain

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“He said if I warn’t so ignorant, but had read a book called Don Quixote, I would know without asking”  Twain 13, this quote said by the character Tom gives reference to the book Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes which was published in the year 1605 and written as a picaresque novel. Twain specifically mentions this work of fiction to clarify to the reader that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a take-off on Don Quixote.

This is a superb example of how literature is often made, which is in some sort of relation to a novel that has previously been written, as a way for the writer to elaborate, to respond, and to react on another novelist work. In a sneaky, illusive way Twain shares with his readers that he intends to write a novel filled with humor that points out idiocy by using idiocy. Twain also mirrored Cervantes novel by also writing in picaresque technique, and basing Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer, off of Cervantes’s main characters.

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Tom Sawyer is a parody of the primary character, Don. Both are known to be the ones to read many books, and attempt at making life imitate fiction. Sawyer is all about romantic ingenuity, as Don is, and both have limited interest in reality. Huck Finn is a gleaming vision of the secondary character, Sancho Panza. They both offer realistic common sense to the plot line of their novels, and illustrate the imprudent ideas of their fellow characters obsession of romantic imagination. Although Huck and Tom are set up as paradoxes to one another, similar traits are still shared between the two. One of the most important similarities being that they are a vision of boisterous boys; they are amused by foul language, and pranks that society frowns upon.

An analogy can also be found between Don and Huck when it concerns the overall theme of both novels. The pair have difficulty distinguishing between the overall accepted reality, and a world that is more of a dream to them. The theme of society’s accepted appearances versus a dreamed reality is an underlining theme throughout Don Quixote, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But both characters take full responsibility for their adventures and choose to make the best of their coming of age experiences by turning their fact of existence into what they want their morals, and values to be based upon. The prodigious author, Vladimir Nabokov gives a perfect description of this:

“Reality and illusion are interwoven in the pattern of life. ‘How,’ he remarks to his squire, ‘how is it possible for you to have accompanied me all this time without coming to perceive that all the things that have to do with knight errantry appear to be mad, foolish, and fantastic… Not that they are so in reality: it is simply that there are always a lot of enchanters going about among us, changing things and giving them a deceitful appearance, directing them as suits their fancy, depending upon whether they wish to favor or destroy us.” (Nabokov)

Superstition and religion is by far one of the most represented dynamics. But many will agree that superstition is an impractical and childish way of looking at life, but several of the characters created by Mark Twain would disagree whole heartedly. Examples of superstitions are bountiful throughout the novel, but are most abundant in chapter four. At some point Huck knocks over a salt- cellar, and tries to throw salt over his shoulder but is stopped by Miss. Watson due to the fact that she is under the impression he is only attempting to make a mess. Afterwards he says, “The widow put in a good word for me, but that warnt going to keep off the bad luck” (Twain 15).

Now when he declares, ‘The widow put in a good for me,’ he is referring to her putting in a good word to God, but he knows this will not help because bad luck is inevitable since he was not successful in throwing the salt over his should. An additional case of superstition is made when Huck puts his complete trust and faith in Jim who, “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 that it knowed everything. So I went to him that night…” (Twain 20). Now this shows that Huck would rather go to Jim to solve his problems with a magic hairball, than go to Widow Douglas who had her God.

Based off of Huck’s complete acceptance of superstition, there is no room that remains for having faith in religion. This is due to the fact that Twain clearly depicts religion as a sort of bondage to constrict Huck and bring him down from the realms of possibility; whereas superstition is a freedom from this sort of restriction. Huck also gets the impression, from the Widow, that if one is religious it means God is watching over those individuals; this idea is frowned upon by Huck because he has always fended for himself, and prefers to keep it this way. Now superstition can help him to survive on his own, considering it helps to protect himself.

Additionally, Huck has patience only for things that affect him directly, and he gets the feeling religion cannot do this. Twain’s comprehensive reasons for including superstition as a main dynamic to the story was to give an alternative to overall teachings of religions, providing a reminder that society’s accepted ideas are not always right. Even though Twain is clear on Huck’s opinion of religion versus superstition; at one point he gets into the subject of how religion and superstition can, at times, be one and the same. This idea is brought across more clearly in the words of Mildred Haun,

“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” (Haun).

Now Twains corresponding example of this concept is brought to the reader in the fourth chapter where Huck knocks over a salt-cellar, which he later believes puts in the motion the return of his father at the beginning of chapter five. Spilling salt is believed to be linked to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper, where one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot, is depicted as accidentally spilling over a salt-cellar. Now his action of spilling the salt indicated that one day he would betray Jesus. Salt is also a religious symbols, since its origins are being used to make holy water. A common German proverb grasped that, “whoever spills salt arouses enmity.” Also a common form of warding off the bad luck after one has spilled salt is to throw it over ones shoulder, because it is believed that it will hit the face of the devil that is lurking on the persons shoulder.

Twain constructs the spirits of Pap, and Jim to set up a direct contrast between the two opposites. After finding his father’s footprints in the snow, Huck goes to Jim who had a magic hairball that he would use to do magic with. Once Jim has given the superstition, his role has been completely altered; not only is he a humanized stereotype, but has now become the spiritual center of the book for Huck. Finally Huck Finn has someone who he can rely on, that has the same ideas as him when it concerns superstition. Twain is also very specific on Jim prediction Huck’s future with a hairball from the stomach of an ox, because it is the belief of voodoo origin, which takes into play of continuing to stereotype Jim.

Now Pap is one of the most memorable characters due to the fact that the reader was given no prior information on his to explain his current state. The only knowledge we are given of him, is brought to us through Huck’s personal opinion of his father. Immediately it is clear that Pap is an embodiment to pure evil. He also represents the worst of white society; he is violent, racist, and most of all ignorant. Pap also gives us an idea of what Huck could one day become if left to his fathers parental guidance.

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Religion Versus Superstition in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Novel by Mark Twain. (2023, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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