Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
In Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there exists a slave whose name is Jim. This occurs in the southern states of America during the antebellum period. This is after he is found by another character known as Jim, who is the protagonist of the novel and together they travel up the Mississippi river from JacksonIsland. The two conjure a somewhat symbiotic relationship whereby they rely on each other for survival as they overcome numerous obstacles that obscure their freedom. Jim faces the challenges of being racially discriminated due to the color of his skin, as he is a black runaway slave from the antebellum south. The author, Mark Twain tends to both support and challenge racist stereotypes.
Jim is characterized as a sincere yet naïve character. The runaway slave is represented as a fatherly figure that always endears to maintain his integrity. He is the only character whom Mark Twain portrays as never being hypocritical. This is despite the fact that he is also portrayed as a character that has a childlike mentality.
Mark Twain through Jim, challenges racist stereotypes by attributing more human qualities to him than the other characters in the book. During the Antebellum period, black was not regarded as part of the human race. When told of the news that a small explosion on the boat had killed a slave, Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Sally supports racist stereotypes. She does not regard the death of a black man as a fatality as she says, “it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt” (Twain 263). This implies that she was at ease with a black person dying due to the blast but she would have been devastated if it were a white man or child.
Jim challenges the racist stereotypes by assuming the role of a fatherly figure to a young Huck. He does this throughout the bulk of the novel. Through this deed, he comes out as a caring and responsible man who goes out of his racial cocoon to take care of a young white boy. By shielding Huck from viewing the dead body of Huck’s father, Pap, his character of consideration and paternal care is strongly revealed. This also shows that he is human in contrast to the racist stereotypes supported by Aunt Sally that black people were less of human beings. Jim demonstrates his humanity by taking care of Huck physically, mentally and emotionally as the sight he was shielding him from would have had adverse effects on the young boy both emotionally and mentally.
Jim continues to exhibit his humanity by communicating his feelings to Huck. This makes Huck contemplate that “I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a known it would make him feel that way” (Twain 142). This leads to Huck challenging the racist stereotype and acknowledging that the black man has feelings just like a normal human being. Huck’s emotions are deeply hurt when he realizes that he had hurt the feelings of a friend. By terming Jim as a friend, he equals him to himself and to a human being against the stereotypical notion that a black man is less a human being.
There are numerous instances where Mark Twain portrays Jim as character who is naïve and childlike in his thinking. Huck and Tom Sawyer played a trick on Jim by taking his hat off and placing it on a tree. When Jim woke up he 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 huge his hat on a limb to show who done it” (Twain 75). This showed his way of thinking, which was rather knavish and childlike. It represented the typical black slave who had been sheltered from knowledge. This type of mindset justified the archaic racist stereotypes that had developed in the south during the antebellum period. Jim is easily tricked and outwitted by Huck a couple of other times thereby exhibiting his gullible nature. This leads to Huck even humbling himself and apologizing to Jim.
Jim thought that had the spirits had taken over his body one night. He was full of superstitious beliefs to the tune of thinking that he had a giant hairball that he used to perform magic. This portrayal of Jim as a superstitious character supports the racial mentality that black slaves are unchristian. Mark Twain uses this irrational character of belief on Jim to justify the racist stereotypes of the south.
Mark Twain continues to affirm the assertions about the literary representations of African Americans as lowly or uneducated by having him use vernacular when Jim talks to Hulk about his father. Jim says that “trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ’em ashamed” (Twain 142). Jim is not dynamic and does not develop a character throughout the novel. Even though he remains to be a responsible simple-minded character that faithfully looks after Hulk, he does not get educated thus remains to wallow in his ignorance. At the beginning of the novel, while he is still a slave under Miss Watson, Jim portrays his ignorance when he says “doan’ know, yit, what he’s a-gwyne to do” (Twain 85). Normally it is expected that through his experiences and journeys, he should have at least become more literate. On the contrary, at the end of the novel, Jim explains to Hulk about his father in very primitive English. This shows no intellectual growth in Jim.
In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s characterization of Jim contradicts the assertions about the literary representations of African Americans made by the narrator of the James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. This is because through the character and actions of Jim, the black man is portrayed as someone who is a human being. This is through the way he takes care of young Hulk, whom he shields from emotional pain and he becomes emotionally hurt when he is tricked. To top it all, he is on the run because he recognizes that he has the right to freedom though this is clouded by instances where his ignorance and superstition are exhibited.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Canada: Electric Book Company, 2005. Print.