MarkTwain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn is a realistic novelportraying the reality of the Southern back at that time. The novel is aperfect depiction of the idea of race and slavery. Although the title says thatthe novel is about Huck’s escape and adventure towards his own freedom, Twainincluded Jim to shed light on how black men were viewed at that time.
Thereader should understand the historical context of the novel to better be ableto understand the novel. According to Richard K. Barksdale (1984), due to thefact that the novel took place in Missouri, it is accordingly considered to bea racist novel set in a setting revolving around slavery (p. 17). He continuedby claiming that the character of Jim came from a background where “whateverknowledge came to the slave came only with the express permission andauthorization of the master or mistress” (p. 17).
This statement shows thestate the slaves were living in and how they were treated not as human beings.Therefore, Jim is a representation of the black slaves and how they were viewedat that time. Knowing that the novel is written in 1884, it is depicting thesociety of 1830-1840s, a society where slavery is legal. Since it was after theCivil War in 1861-1865 when Abraham Lincoln signed the EmancipationProclamation giving the African Americans their freedom from slavery in thesouth. By the time the novel was released in 1884, the tension between raceswas still fresh. Accordingly, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is anovel revolving around the theme of racism and slavery.
However, Twainchallenges the typical society views in his novel through the journey Jim, theblack slave, and Huck, the white kid, take together. This challenge is to showthe readers never to follow the traditional views but rather to form their ownviews to be able to better know right from wrong. The most obvious sign of racism inthe novel is the over use of the word “nigger” all throughout the novel. Somereaders might find it offensive, but Twain’s main aim behind the usage of theword was to make the novel as realistic as possible to be able to portray whatwas really going on at that time. While reading, the readers learn that Jim isthe property of Miss Watson as said in chapter 2, “Miss Watson’s big nigger,named Jim” (p. 5) The novel was written at a time where the blacks were notseen as human beings but as a property. At the beginning of the novel, Huck isfollowing the norms of the society he is in and being a racist.
In chapter 2,when Tom and Huck were in the garden and they saw Jim, they wanted to playgames on him as if Jim was some kind of emotionless inhuman object. After Tomtricked Jim, Jim believed that he was bewitched and made all the other blackslaves believe in that too. Readers do not only see the excessive usage of theword “nigger” in simply one paragraph, but they can also see how white men viewthe black men as a joke. Leslie Gregory (2005) states, “even though blacks hadbeen granted citizenship in 1870 by the 15th Amendment to theconstitution, Southern white society still looked upon them as sub-humancreatures without souls or feelings” (p.
1). Huck is not to be judged for being a racistand acting the way he did. Not only is Huck a kid, but he was also raised in asociety where slaves were bought and not treated as humans. This was enforcedby living with his brutal racist father, as well as Miss Watson owning Jim as aslave. According to a research by Katie Bryant (1978-1979), she claims that”…learning was forbidden for slaves…” (p. 7). The fact of the blacks beinguneducated, this gave the white superiority over them, and this is shownthrough Huck’s father.
Everywhere he goes no matter where, the idea of racismand slavery is reinforced. Katie Bryant (1978-1979) statedthat, “Huck is a realistic character in that he matures during the novel,specifically as he comes to regard Jim as another human being with feelings”(p. 7). By running away together, Huck started to learn a lot about Jim. It allstarted when they meet on Jackson Island and Huck is surprised to hear thatsomeone could actually escape his owner, although Jim’s flee was due to thefact that his owner wanted to sell him. Huck believes that Jim’s escape is asin, but promises to keep his secret safe, “people would call me a low downAblitionist and despise me for keeping mum – but that don’t make no difference.I ain’t agoing to tell, and I ain’t agoing back there anyways” (p.48).
AlthoughHuck does not agree with slaves running away from their owners, but he reallystarts to feel with Jim and build a bond. Rhett S. Jones (1984) claims that,”Huck manifests white double-consciousness as he shifts back and forth betweenhis own regard for Jim as a person and the kind of person the society tells himJim must be” (p.30) which is shown in several points in the novel. In chapter15, the readers can feel how much Jim was worried about Huck, “… my heart wuzmos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’ k’ye no mo’ what become er me en deraf’. En when I wake up en fine you back again’, all safe en soun’, de tearscome en I could a got down on my knees en kiss’ yo’ foot I’s so thankful” (p.
95). When Huck realized that Jim has feelings and emotions just like any whiteperson, he started to feel guilty and decided not to hurt him anymore (p.95).At this point, Huck is breaking free from the stereotypes of the southern mentalitytowards the black men being slaves and have no feelings or emotions.