Notes on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Themes

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Topic Tracking: Superstition

Chapters 6-10

Superstition 1: While religion is a routine obligation, superstition is the true faithful belief of Tom and many others. The various cures for warts that Tom and Huck discuss cannot be questioned, and there is always an explanation when they fail. Dead cats are especially important to the boys, as they are very powerful and have many uses.

Superstition 2: Although the trick Tom uses to find his marbles fails, he cannot believe that the superstition is false. Instead, he seeks another superstition (a witch) to explain it. Even though it takes three tries to find his lost marble a minute later, the fact that he found it is proof to him that the tricks of superstition work.

Superstition 3: Tom and Huck at first believe that the howling dog means they will die. When they see it howling at Muff Potter, they understand that he is in trouble, not them. Since they never doubt such things, they know nothing they can do will change his fate.

Chapters 11-15

Superstition 4: The adults of St. Petersburg are just as superstitious as the children. When Dr. Robinson's body bleeds when Joe helps move it (a sign that the killer is near) it must be explained. Instead of coming to the proper conclusion, that Injun Joe is guilty, they believe it is because Muff Potter is close to the body. In this way, they tailor the superstition to their own needs.

Superstition 5: Another use of dead cats is mentioned here: they can be used to discover hidden information. Obviously, the boys performing the rituals with the dead cats discover nothing close to the truth. Tom, who normally has a lot of faith in this purpose of dead cats, avoids participating in the ritual, perhaps because he knows more than any dead cat could possible tell, or perhaps because he believes that his own knowledge of the murder will be revealed.

Superstition 6: Aunt Polly, religious as she is, has her own form of superstition. The patent medicines and health magazines she feels so strongly about make the same empty promises that Tom's superstition does, but she believes in them anyway. Even when the magazines contradict themselves from issue to issue, Aunt Polly goes on believing what they say.

Superstition 7: Tom gets very excited by the worm crawling across his leg and its promise of new, fancy clothes. Here the superstition serves something directly important to Tom, since the night before they boys were discussing the fancy pirate clothes they would be getting soon. This is an example of how Tom's superstition often serves things he's been thinking about recently.

Chapters 16-20

Superstition 8: Tom's bracelet of rattlesnake rattles protects him from cramps. When he loses them, he refuses to go into the water out of fear. This superstition is a powerful force in Tom's life, since it forces him to give up a fun activity.

Chapters 21-25

Superstition 9: Again, Tom and Huck use superstitious beliefs to solve a problem. They prefer to believe that their bad luck in finding treasure is due to witches or not following certain rules of treasure-hunting, that the treasure is where the tree's shadow casts. They fall back on superstition rather than admit they are wrong.

Superstition 10: Huck is more simple about superstition than Tom, and fears ghosts. He doesn't want to have anything to do with the haunted house. Tom, on the other hand, can explain certain superstitions away when they get in the way of his fun, tailoring his beliefs to his needs as the adults to. He convinces Huck that the haunted-house is nothing to fear when it's daytime. However, when they come near the haunted-house, neither boy can help but get very scared and avoid the house and its ghosts as much as possible.

Chapters 26-30

Superstition 11: When Huck says they can't dig, it is as much out of his stronger fear of the haunted-house as his belief that Friday is an unlucky day. He uses one superstition to cover up his fear of another.

Chapters 31-35

Superstition 12: Tom and Huck's last encounter with Injun Joe is worrying about his ghost. Alive, they feared him, and there is no reason to stop fearing him after his death. This superstition comes close to ending their treasure-hunting mission, and Tom cannot talk Huck out of it. He even begins to believe they are in danger. It is only when they realize that the cross on the wall of the cave will protect them that they can go on. Safe from Injun Joe's ghost, they can move forward to get the treasure.

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