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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTER 10

The next morning Huck wonders aloud how the dead man was killed. Jim says it would be bad luck to talk about it. He adds that unburied corpses are more likely to haunt people than buried ones. That sounds reasonable to Huck, so he drops the subject.

Most of this chapter is about bad luck and its causes. As you read it, you should be able to detect Mark Twain in the background, having a laugh over some of the superstitions he believed when he was a boy.

Huck tells us that after he handled some snakeskin, Jim warned him that bad luck was coming. Sure enough, three days later Jim is bitten by a rattlesnake because of something Huck has done.

Even though Huck is directly responsible for what happens to Jim, he counts this as the bad luck that Jim predicted. Twain is probably making a small joke here about how superstitious people will go out of their way to find things that make their superstitions seem true.

But he's also setting us up for another joke on the same topic. Huck tells us a story about Hank Bunker, who waited a full two years before his bad luck finally showed up. The funniest part of the story is the description of what happened to the man and how he was buried.

NOTE:

The subject of good and bad luck comes up often in Huck's narration, and you might have suspected by now that it's more than simply a way for Twain to get some laughs. Jim's attitude toward the supernatural, for example, should tell you something about his self-image and about his view of the world.

Maybe you remember a conversation the two had when they first met on the island in Chapter 8. Huck asked Jim why he never talked about signs of good luck, why he dwelt so much on bad omens. Jim's response was that, first, there are very few signs of good luck; and second, that good luck wasn't the sort of thing you had to know about in advance.

To Jim, the world is an endlessly threatening place. Danger is hiding behind every tree and under every rock. At any moment, everything you have could be taken away from you by forces over which you have no control.


If you can imagine growing up as a slave in 19th-century America, you can understand how Jim could have developed such a view of life. A slave had no status as a human being; he could be beaten or even killed by a master; he was a piece of property who could be sold on a whim, even if that meant permanent separation from his own family.

To someone who grew up under conditions like these, dark and unexplained forces could become a part of everyday life. But how about Huck? Does the same explanation hold true for him?

It's true that Huck has had his share of hardship; you don't have to look any farther than Pap. To a kid, the unpredictable behavior of a cruel, drunken father is no less frightening than the things a slave had to worry about all the time.

That unwarranted and unpredictable cruelty could help to explain why Huck has such a low opinion of himself. If his own father treats him like a piece of dirt, he probably finds it easy to believe that he is a piece of dirt. And if his own father could turn on him in an instant and suddenly start beating him, Huck might find it easy to believe that the world is filled with unexplained forces that could ruin his life just as suddenly.

Still, there are at least two differences between Jim and Huck. One is that Huck is white. No matter how badly he thinks of himself, somewhere, deep inside, he knows that there's at least a chance that he could be a respectable person some day. For Jim, that would be inconceivable.

A second difference is that Huck is a boy, on his way to becoming an adult. He's also inclined to examine ideas before accepting or rejecting them. So he asks a lot of questions about the omens that Jim believes with all his heart.

In most cases Huck ends up accepting what Jim tells him. But that doesn't mean he always will. He still has the potential of learning and of outgrowing things he now believes. As you read on, you'll see some of this taking place.

The chapter ends with Huck dressing up as a girl so he can go to town and find out the latest news about him and Jim. He puts on a dress and a bonnet that they took from the floating house the night before. After paddling the canoe to the mainland, he finds himself outside the house of someone who has just moved into town.

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