Study Guide

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Religion

By Mark Twain

Religion

Chapter 1
Huckleberry Finn

After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn't care no more about him, because I don't take no stock in dead people. (1.4)

Huck can't figure out why anyone would care about a bunch of long-dead people. (Hey! Ask Shmoop!) For him, religion is about the day-to-day business of living.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together. (1.7)

Well, when you put it that way, wandering around all day with a harp doesn't sound like much fun at all. You can't blame a thirteen-year-old boy for thinking that Heaven sounds a little dull.

Chapter 2
Huckleberry Finn

Ben Rogers said he couldn't get out much, only Sundays, and so he wanted to begin next Sunday; but all the boys said it would be wicked to do it on Sunday, and that settled the thing. (2.38)

Let's get this straight: murderous band of robbers, sure. Murderous band of robbers on Sundays, no way. It sounds like only some of those Sunday School lessons are sinking in.

Chapter 3
Huckleberry Finn

Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way. (3.1)

This is one of those fun bits of dramatic irony. We know that you're supposed to pray for things like kindness, grace, forgiveness, and maybe a nice harp waiting for you in Heaven. But no one's bothered to explain this to Huck, so he thinks prayer is kind of like making an Amazon wishlist and waiting for God to click on it.

Chapter 5
Pap

"It's so. You can do it. I had my doubts when you told me. Now looky here; you stop that putting on frills. I won't have it. I'll lay for you, my smarty; and if I catch you about that school I'll tan you good. First you know you'll get religion, too. I never see such a son. (5.12)

To Pap, the only thing worse that his boy gettin' educated is gettin' religion. We can understand that. Thirteen-year-olds are sanctimonious enough without getting all religious and trying to convert their alcoholic, abusive fathers.

Chapter 20
Huckleberry Finn

And so on. You couldn't make out what the preacher said any more, on account of the shouting and crying. Folks got up everywheres in the crowd, and worked their way just by main strength to the mourners' bench, with the tears running down their faces; and when all the mourners had got up there to the front benches in a crowd, they sung and shouted and flung themselves down on the straw, just crazy and wild. (20.32)

"Crazy" and "wild" aren't words we often association with religion. What kind of experience is this? Are the people really getting any religion out of this—or are they just letting off some steam in an era before football games?

The first shed we come to the preacher was lining out a hymn. He lined out two lines, everybody sung it, and it was kind of grand to hear it, there was so many of them and they done it in such a rousing way; then he lined out two more for them to sing—and so on. The people woke up more and more, and sung louder and louder; and towards the end some begun to groan, and some begun to shout. Then the preacher begun to preach, and begun in earnest, too; and went weaving first to one side of the platform and then the other, and then a-leaning down over the front of it, with his arms and his body going all the time, and shouting his words out with all his might; and every now and then he would hold up his Bible and spread it open, and kind of pass it around this way and that, shouting, "It's the brazen serpent in the wilderness! Look upon it and live!" And people would shout out, "Glory!—A-a-MEN!" And so he went on, and the people groaning and crying and saying amen: (20.30)

Religion… or mass hallucination? This sounds a lot more like a hippie concert than an actual religious experience. Is Twain making fun of all the revivals in the 1830s? Or does he see something good in them?

Chapter 25
Huckleberry Finn

And the minute the words were out of his mouth somebody over in the crowd struck up the doxolojer, and everybody joined in with all their might, and it just warmed you up and made you feel as good as church letting out. Music is a good thing; and after all that soul-butter and hogwash I never see it freshen up things so, and sound so honest and bully. (25.8)

"Doxolojer" isn't some weird magical incantation; it's Huck's version of "doxology," a Christian expression of praise. And check out how, after all the wild craziness of the revival, we end up feeling pretty good. Maybe there is something to be said for getting together in a tent and cutting loose with a hundred other of the faithful?

Chapter 31
Huckleberry Finn

There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you'd a done it they'd a learnt you there that people that acts as I'd been acting about that n***** goes to everlasting fire." (31.19)

Ah, church, where you learn important lessons like being respectful to your parents, speaking the truth, and not helping your neighbors' slaves escape.

Chapter 32
Huckleberry Finn

WHEN I got there it was all still and Sunday-like, and hot and sunshiny; the hands was gone to the fields; and there was them kind of faint dronings of bugs and flies in the air that makes it seem so lonesome and like everybody's dead and gone; and if a breeze fans along and quivers the leaves it makes you feel mournful, because you feel like it's spirits whispering—spirits that's been dead ever so many years—and you always think they're talking about YOU. As a general thing it makes a body wish HE was dead, too, and done with it all. (32.1)

Now this is a religious experience: the sun shining, flies buzzing, a breeze rustling the leaves, and the ever-so-slight sense of spirits in the air. For Huck, real religion isn't found in a church; it's found out-of-doors.