Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot – By Order of the Author, (Twain 1) reads the Notice before The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Twain claims that he wrote the entire novel purely as an adventure story, and had no intention of creating a deeper statement about the human condition. On the contrary, Twain creates an insight into humanity that the reader hardly expects from the authors impractical notice. He does this by using the two main characters in the novel, Huck Finn, an uneducated boy running away from civilization and Jim, the runaway slave. As these two misfits float down the Mississippi River on a raft, Twain uses the character of Jim and his interactions with others to defy the white perception of the Negro and to ultimately demonstrate his place in American society. Twain does this by showing how Jim does not form to the mold of the stereotypical slave, has real emotions just like anyone else and is an example of the Negros social standing at that time.
In the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain introduces Jim by describing the stereotypical Negro. Jim represents the ignorance and superstitions that most white believed to be the slaves persona. As seen through the eyes of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Jim personifies the stereotypical characteristics of the carefree and often ridiculous Negro. This is demonstrated when the reader first meets Jim, as Tom and Huck attempt to sneak out of the house. Jim, hears the boys moving and decides to wait until he hears it again but promptly falls asleep. Tom moves Jims hat by hanging it on a tree limb. Afterward Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the state, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it, (Twain 6). This ignorant and illogical explanation illustrates the stereotypical white opinion of Negroes in America.Later in the novel, Huck goes to Jim for help in conjuring the future. The reader sees the ridiculous side of the typical Slave classification. Jims prized possession is a hairball that was taken from the stomach of an ox. He said there was a spirit inside of it, and it knowed
everything, (Twain 17). Jim rolls the hairball around the floor a bit and then claims to see into Hucks future. After this incident, Jim not only seems ignorant, but absurd, for using a hairball as an oracle, further showing the illustration of Jims character as the carefree and superstitious image. Finally, Twain uses Jims superstition to round out this categorization of all Negroes. After Huck fools his father and the town into thinking he was murdered, he escapes into the wilderness of Jackson Island and unexpectedly runs into Jim. Upon seeing the boy he assumes was dead, Jim exclaims, Doan hurt me-dont! I haint ever done no harm to a ghos. I alwuz liked dead people, en fone all I could for em…doan do nuffin to Ole Jim, at uz alwuz yo fren, (Twain 41). Instead of the seemingly logical conclusion to which most would jump, that Huck was not really dead, Jims ignorance combines with his superstitious belief in ghosts to form the opinion that the vision he saw before him did not consist of flesh and bones, but the ghost of Huck Finn returned from the dead to haunt him. Twain uses this combination of ignorance, absurdity, and superstition in Jim to give the reader the false idea that Jim personifies the stereotype of an empty-headed being who is content being in bondage and not suited for any other form of life.
Throughout the rest of the novel, Twain makes every effort to eliminate this misconception by showing Jims kindness, sensitivity and tenderness toward people. The stereotype is almost immediately contradicted when Jim runs away, because the stereotypical Negro would not have done this. The stereotypical slave is perceived as a servant, who wouldnt want to leave his home.After this point, Twain continues to unveil Jims true colors throughout the story. The most obvious way in which Twain accomplishes this unveiling is through Jims feelings about his family. One day, as Huck woke up to hear Jim moaning and mourning to himself…Huck knowed what it was about. He was thinking about his wife and his children…and…he cared just as much for his people as white folk does for theirn, (Twain 155). The idea of slaves loving other people presented a very foreign idea to most whites. The
black mans mind was inferior and unable to feel the same emotions, like love and loneliness. As Huck compares Jim to white folks, it is one of the highest compliments. Huck shows his admiration for Jim in the only words he can, using the perceived difference between blacks and whites to relate that Jims humanity was that equal of any white man. Jims image also changes when he relates to Huck the story of his daughter, Elizabeth, who loses her hearing after a severe case of scarlet fever. Before he realizes that his daughter cannot hear, he punishes her for disobedience, not understanding that she does not hear his demands. Once this realization occurs his guilt overwhelms him. Oh Huck, I bust out a-cryin en grab her up in my arms, en say, Oh, de po little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as longs he live! (Twain 156). Guilt for his own actions and the compassion he feels for his daughter are two more white emotions that Huck realizes Jim also feels. Throughout Huck and Jims journey down the Mississippi River, Huck views Jim in a different light, realizing that he is not completely the ignorant, ridiculous creature he was once thought to be. Jim is actually a human being capable of feeling the entire spectrum of emotions, disputing the classic view of the Negro. Not until the end of the book is Twains expression of Jims humanity is indisputably upheld. As Jim voluntarily stops his escape in order for Huck to fetch a doctor for the injured Tom Sawyer, an action that saves Toms life, while jeopardizing his own, Jims humanity is demonstrated. This action also eventually leads to Jims recapture and near hanging by an angry mob. Even though Jim has full knowledge that he may be recaptured his selflessness causes him to insist upon fetching a doctor. Again, Huck compares Jim to a white man when he says, I knowed he was white inside, and I reckoned hed say what he did say, (Twain 276). A second instance takes place at the very end of the book, after Jim realizes that his freedom has come at last. Huck worries about his father coming back to steal Hucks money. Jim quietly tells him that Pap will never come back again. When Huck presses him as to why Jim says this, Jim refers to an earlier instance in the story when the two had seen a house floating down the river with
a dead man inside. Doan you member de house dat was floatn down de river, en dey wuz a man in dah, kivered up en I went in en unkivered him and didn let you come in? Well, den, you kin git yo money when you wants it, kase dat was him, (Twain 293). By not allowing Huck to come inside the house and by keeping the true identity of the man concealed, Jim believes his actions protect Huck from pain and unpleasantness. Because Jim has a stable, loving relationship with his own children, he does not realize that some fathers, Hucks white father included, do not love their children in this way. This selfless action of Jim reveals more about his character than any other action in the book. Not only does it speak of his love of his own children, but it also proves the love and compassion that he develops for Huck Finn, proving that Jim, a black man, is as human as any white man, contradicting the stereotype that Negroes are inhuman and unfeeling.
Along with defying the social stereotype of the happy-go-lucky, ignorant Negro, Jim also serves as an example for the free Negros social standing in 1884, the year of the books publication. After the Civil War, blacks were technically free men, but were rarely granted their deserved rights and privileges equal to those held by the free white man. Very often, Huck and the river rafts other passengers, the duke and the king, travel onshore, leaving Jim alone on the raft. In order to protect him against slave traders who might come upon him, the duke paints his face blue and dresses him up in absurd costumes, leaving a sign that reads, Sick Arab- But harmless when not out of his head, (Twain 156). Huck believes this disguise is meant to keep the people from recognizing Jims race, but when the disguise is put to the test, the people who come upon Jim simply see that he is a strange nigger dressed so and so, (Twain 211). This incident can be compared to what happened to many free blacks during their migration northward, trying to find jobs and prosperity. Many employers would not give them jobs, simply because of their race. They dressed like white men, acted like white men, but were not granted the privileges of white men. Likewise, Jim tries to disguise himself as an Arab, but still is not treated as an Arab. Twain also uses the character
of Tom Sawyer to further the idea of the black social status. Tom Sawyer arrives at
his Aunt Sallys home with the knowledge that Jims owner, Miss Watson, set him free in her will. Yet, Tom keeps this knowledge to himself, using the opportunity that Jims captivity provided for his own amusement, hoping for a grand adventure. After the truth is revealed, Tom confides to Huck that his plan was for Huck and Tom to run Jim down the river on the raft, and have adventures plumb to the mouth of the river, and then tell him about his being free, (Twain 292). Likewise, Tom Sawyer continued the practice of white men using black men to their own advantage. Tom showed great selfishness in not telling Jim the truth and using the mans pitiable condition to his own advantage. However, the biggest statement that Twain makes about social conditions of free blacks in his era does not have to do with Jims treatment by any character in the book, but simply his condition near the end of it. A family by the name of Phelps, Tom Sawyers aunt and uncle, recapture Jim and put him in chains again, although his freedom has long since been granted. Jim personifies the free blacks condition after the Civil War in that he was a free man, still wearing chains. The bonds that blacks wore were not those of slavery, however, but those of racism. Former slaves were free and they were granted the rights of citizens of the United States, yet they were still denied the chance to fulfill their own dreams and pursue happiness because of the racism that shaded the opinions of the whites who controlled society. By presenting Jim in such a manner, Twains character embodies the position in which free blacks found themselves after their freedom had been granted.
Twains novel is largely satirical, written in the tongue-in-cheek manner considered his trademark. However, underneath the ridicule and the satire lies a far deeper meaning. The authors statement about the perception of white superiority and the freed slaves position in society is potent and powerful. After its publication, the book incensed many readers because it dared to insult the preconceived notions and accepted beliefs about the black position in slavery. This book proved to be an appeal to the white population of the United States to recognize its hypocrisy in dealing with freed slaves.
Work cited is straight from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain