Religion is defined as a belief in a divine or superhuman power or higher being to be worshiped as the creator of the universe. Many of the characters have strong religious beliefs, but will not practice any form of superstitious behavior. Both the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson share a common belief in God but view Him in different ways. “Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make the body’s mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again.”(p.13) This proves that Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas have differing views of heaven or “Providence.” While Huck is in the care of the Widow Douglas he also learns about God but is unsure of how to view Him. Huck’s struggles attempting to understand religion are spread throughout the entire story.
The definition of superstition is any belief or attitude that is inconsistent with what we know of science such as charms, omens, and the supernatural. When the characters are expressing or acting out on their superstitious beliefs, they rarely have religious connotations. There are also many examples of superstition in this novel. One such example is when Huck flicks a spider into a candle flame and it dies. “…I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I could budge, it was all shriveled up. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that was an awful bad sign.” (p.5) After Huck realizes what’s happened to the spider, he performs a ritual meant to keep away witches. This is but one of many examples in the book of Huck’s superstitious nature. Jim is also very superstitious, with such obvious examples as his “magic hair-ball.”
This hair-ball was taken out of an ox’s stomach, and Jim claimed it could tell fortunes, and people actually believed it. When Huck asked if it knew anything about his Pap, Jim said that it wouldn’t talk without some kind of payment, so Huck pays with a fake quarter, and Jim gives him a vague explanation of what is going to happen. And Huck believes him. A third example is the snake skin fiasco. Both Huck and Jim believe the snake skin, when touched, would bring bad luck, and sure enough it does. “I awluz ‘spected dat rattlesnake-skin warn’t done wid it’s work.”(p.90) This turns out to be true when Huck and Jim’s raft is damaged by a passingboat, and Huck and Jim are separated.
Superstition and religion are not completely opposites however. There are subtle similarities expressed by different characters. For example, “there was a cross in the left boot-heel made with big nails, to keep off the devil.” Pap, being superstitious, does what he can to keep away bad omens. Pap is as far away from being religious as a person can get and yet he believes in the devil. Most people know that the devil is associated with religion. This is one similarity between religion and superstition. Another similarity is how religiously Huck follows his superstitions. “…turn over the saltcellar at breakfast.
I reached over for some of it as quick as I could to throw over my left shoulder to keep off the bad luck…feeling all worried and shaky, and wondering where it was going to fall on me, and what it was going to be.” (p.16) When Miss Watson saw what Huck was doing she told him he was making a mess and to stop. The widow put a good word in for him yet he still felt bad because he could not finish his ritual. Just like a religious person feels bad when they can not finish their prayers or worships.
Religion and superstition mean completely different things, however they can be practiced in the same way. The similarities between the two ideas are closely related and yet totally different.
Courtney from Study Moose
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