The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a satirical novel written by Mark Twain that exhibits Twain’s views on racism and slavery. The book is set in the deep South during the pre-Civil War era of slavery, about 1835 to 1845, and it tells the story of Huck, who is running away from his abusive father, and Jim, who is running away from his owner so he wouldn’t be sold, travelling to the free states of the North. As they ventures together through the Mississippi river in their raft, Jim and Huck encounter many people and experience many events, each of them bearing a lesson about the fallacy of racism and slavery. Huck starts the novel as someone who is indifferent to slavery, but as the novel progresses, Huck matures and gains a more moral view towards blacks, who were constantly discriminated against by others during the time. Twain’s opposition of slavery and racism is very evident in Huck’s metamorphosis and the various events that occur throughout the novel.
The novel’s protagonist is Huck, but along with Huck is Jim. Jim is a slave that is owned by Mrs. Watson, and he runs away from Mrs. Watson to prevent being sold and separated from his family. At the beginning of the novel, Jim appears to be a one-toned, stereotypical black male, but as the novel continues, Twain reveals the multi-dimensional characteristics of Jim and uses them to demonstrate the hypocritical view that society has towards blacks. The first impression that one gets of Jim is that he’s an illiterate, stupid, superstitious, poorly-spoken “nigger”. Jim believes in many weird, superstitious things for example, “Jim had a hair-ball as big as your fist, which had been took out of the fourth stomach of an ox, and he used to do magic with it. He said there was a spirit inside of it, and it knowed everything (P. 16).” The events that Huck and Jim go through together contradict many of the impressions that these traits donate to Jim.
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Huck and Jim meet each other on Jackson’s island and decide to escape from the town, St. Petersburg, and head to the free states. Huck, in the canoe, gets separated from Jim during a foggy night, but eventually, Huck finds his way back to the raft. Jim wakes up as Huck gets back in the way, and is ecstatic to find out that Huck is still alive, yet Huck tries to deceive him into believing that the foggy night and Huck’s disappearance was just a mere dream. Jim sees the leaves and dirt that Huck tracked in and realizes that Huck was lying; Jim then says to Huck, “…my heart wuz mos’ broke because you wuz los’, en I didn’t k’yer (care) no’ mo’ what become er me en de raf’. En when I wake up en fine you back ag’in, all safe en soun’… I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin’ ‘bout wuz how you can make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed (P. 82).”
Despite the broken English, Jim says many important things in this quote. Jim shows that he cares deeply for Huck even though Huck is white; Jim is devoid of the racism that most of society had during the time period. Jim’s criticisms of the cruel lie that Huck, a white boy, tries to spin off and his definition of trash make Huck feel thoroughly ashamed, and Huck, unlike how the rest of society would have acted, apologized to Jim even though Jim was black. This would not have occurred if Twain was a racist. Twain considers himself to be to equal to blacks. If Twain was a racist, he would have made Huck followed society and refused to submit himself below a “nigger” by apologizing, but Huck did bring himself down below a black and apologized, going completely against racial hate.
Another example of Jim’s dissociation from the stereotypical black male is his ability to care. In his previous quote, Jim displays his strong compassion for Huck, and later in the novel, Jim mourns and cries for his wife and two children during a night watch. Jim tells Huck about when he beat his daughter for disobeying orders, but Jim later found out that his daughter had gone deaf because of a bout with scarlet fever. Jim prays to God to forgive him for his sins, and Huck is bewildered after witnessing this because Jim, a “nigger”, is going through normal human emotions. After much deep thought, Huck concludes that Jim loves his family just as much as a white man. This is another example of Twain’s anti-racist views. Through Huck’s conclusion of Jim’s love for his family, Twain has just told his readers that blacks are equal with whites. Twain doesn’t discriminate against blacks or belittle them.
Huck goes through many events and meets many people that lead him to make him change from a typical white child to one who is incapable of committing racism. After Jim was captured by the duke and king, Huck begins to write a letter to Mrs. Watson so Mrs. Watson can claim Jim and take Huck and Jim home. After considering his relationship with Jim, and the possible results of the letter, Huck says, “It was a close place. I took it up and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they were said. And I let them stay said, and never thought no more about reforming (P. 204).”
This is the biggest declaration of Huck’s newfound moral, and Twain uses this declaration to denounce racism again. A racist would have sent Jim back the moment he saw him, and even if a racist had helped Jim, he or she would have given up when Jim got captured, but Huck, displaying Twain’s anti-racist disposition, tells his readers that he would rather go to hell than to turn his friend in, even if his friend is black.
Huck begins the novel as a boy who disliked being “sivilized”, but was following the rules set by Mrs. Watson and society. At the end of the novel, Aunt Sally offered to adopt and civilize Huck, but Huck refuses and states, “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I have been there before (P. 279).” According to Aunt Sally, Mrs. Watson and society, being civilized meant having a religion, clean clothes, education, and indoctrination in right and wrong. Before his adventure, Huck would have grumbled about being civilized, but he did accept being civilized, but by the end of the novel, Huck realizes that the first two items are useless and the other two, education and indoctrination in right and wrong, cannot be provided properly by society. Twain reveals the faults and hypocrisies behind the morals and ideals of the society during his time and uses them to teach others about the problems that racism brings.
Mrs. Watson, a widow, is extremely religious and tries to reform “rapscallions”, but Mrs. Watson owns slaves, and attempted to split up Jim with his family when she tried to sell Jim. All of the other characters that Huck meets in the novel also suffer from this hypocrisy. Pap Finn, Huck’s father, a white man, beats Huck, drinks constantly, despise education and attempted to rob Huck of his six thousand dollars, yet Pap still considers himself above anyone who carries a trace of black blood. Pap is angered considerably when he found out a mixed man, who appears to be white, in Ohio is able to vote and is also the wealthiest man in his town, and in retaliation, Pap says he’s not going to vote.
Twain is strongly opposed to slavery and racism, but instead of telling others that he is, Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to express his anti-racist views, and explain the faults of racism. Twain uses all the Huck’s metamorphosis, Jim’s complexity, the hypocrisies of society, and many other things in his novel to achieve his purpose. Twain wrote one of the most controversial American novels, and anyone who has carefully read his book can easily see how aggressively Twain tries to change racists and prevent non-racists from becoming racist.
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