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Superstition in an Uncertain World
Twain first explores superstition in the graveyard, where Tom and Huck go to try out a magical cure for warts. From this point forward, superstition becomes an important element in all of the boys’ decision-making. The convenient aspect of Tom and Huck’s superstitious beliefs is that there are so many of them, and they are so freely interpretable; Tom and Huck can pick and choose whichever belief suits their needs at the time. In this regard, Twain suggests, superstition bears a resemblance to religion—at least as the populace of St. Petersburg practices it.
The many crimes committed in the novel range from minor childhood transgressions to capital offenses—from playing hooky to murder. The games the boys prefer center on crime as well, giving them a chance to explore the boldness and heroism involved in breaking social expectations without actually threatening the social order. The boys want to be pirates, robbers, and murderers even though they feel remorse when they actually commit the minor crime of stealing bacon. The two scenes in which Tom plays Robin Hood—who, in stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is both a criminal and a hero—are emblematic of how Tom associates crime with defending values and even altering the structure of society.
The children in the novel maintain an elaborate miniature economy in which they constantly trade amongst themselves treasures that would be junk to adults. These exchanges replicate the commercial relationships in which the children will have to engage when they get older. Many of the complications that money creates appear in their exchanges. Tom swindles his friends out of all their favorite objects through a kind of false advertising when he sells them the opportunity to whitewash the fence. He then uses his newly acquired wealth to buy power and prestige at Sunday school—rewards that should be earned rather than bought. When Tom and Joe fight over the tick in class, we see a case in which a disagreement leads the boys, who have been sharing quite civilly, to revert to a quarrel over ownership.