“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain offer the readers a range of thought-provoking themes one of the most interesting of which is ambiguity in relation to racism. Conveying his message through Jim, the main African-American character, the author states that Negroes should be treated as boys but never as men. At the same time, the image of Jim helps to see behind this stereotype and discover the emergence of a complicated human being. The first example regarding the identified theme is that the author makes this character look seemingly simple-minded and uses comical introduction to evolve the interpretation based on racial stereotyping. In particular, Jim is referred to as “Miss Watson’s big nigger” (Twain, 1994, p. 5). At the same time, the fact that both Jim and Finn decided to escape to Illinois clearly shows that they are equal in spite of racial prejudices. Let us consider this doubleness on examples from 14 and 16 chapters in detail.
In the chapter 14, Huck and Jim discuss King Solomon and his wisdom. While Huck believes that Solomon had a happy life with the harem, wealth, and other goods, Jim considers that many women and children can cause excessive noise and quarreling. According to Jim, the best outcome for Solomon could be the following decision: “a wise man ‘ud take en buil’ a biler-factry; en den he could shet down de biler-factry when he want to res’” (Twain, 1994, p. 87). Thus, the reader notes Jim’s worldly-wisdom that is based on his own experience and upbringing rather than on smart books. In his turn, Huck cannot understand his companion as at first sight the latter looks like a “stupid slave”. The author applies this irony in order to reveal the fact that African-Americans are not lower on the social scale than Whites.
Furthermore, the statement described above illustrates that Jim is more mature and logical, especially regarding practical cases. At the same time, it should be noted that Huck cannot recognize him as equal, pointing out that he had an “uncommon level head, for a nigger” (Twain, 1994, p. 79). After the discussion of different languages existing in the world, it seems that Huck starts to understand Jim’s view yet he remains prejudicially dismissive of Jim. This chapter foreshadows the debate of consciousness that would occur later with the main character who misses the core point in this conversation. Therefore, it is possible to state that Twain debunked the stereotype concerning silliness of African-Americans who can be uneducated and even unable to read yet have a strong vision and critical thinking in regard to vital issues.
The chapter 16 provides essential insights into the personality of Jim. In particular, the events take place on Mississippi River that not only combines the action but also emphasizes the significance of human passions and ambitions (Twain, 1994). The river symbolizes the state of mind of Jim, blowing his anxiety and giving peace and wisdom. The following is evident of irony implemented by Twain to reveal his antiracist message. The chapter 16 represents Huck’s consciousness that cannot be controlled because of the pressure of society and prejudices (Twain, 1994). Observing that Jim is excited with the thought of close freedom, Huck feels that he has to report to the authorities about his escape.
However, he cannot come up with a convincing argument and, therefore, continues to suffer and remain compelled to be constrained by his own consciousness. In his turn, Jim feels that Huck can betray him yet he stays calm, following his initial goal of finding his family. Jim’s course of action is clear and specific, his words are fulfilled with unambiguous meaning, and his overall behavior is quite reasonable. As for Huck, being the representative of the ruling class, he considers that Jim’s family like property belong to its owners who would care about it. Again, the readers note that intelligent Huck turns out to be less aware of life difficulties than his African-American fellow traveler. Undoubtedly, this is the irony that proves Twain’s negative attitudes towards racism. Using such a tool as irony, the author achieves precise representation of the life of that period and criticizes slavery.
It seems essential to emphasize that Twain understands that people are not equal in their spiritual qualities, energy, and talents. On this scale, some people are above the others. Nevertheless, the mentioned examples clearly show that the author was too observant to accept the artificial inequality – by origin, religion, nationality, and race. According to Robinson (1988), “inviting the indulgence of moral indignation at the evils of slavery, but at the same time obscuring the humorous humanity of numerous major actors” (p. 364). Thus, in the novel, Huck stands higher in the eyes of others than the Negro. However, Jim has more fidelity and courage. To portray the latter as the most honorable man in the novel and draw a picture of friendship between a white man and a black man, an American writer of the 1880s needed a large courage and boldness.
Robinson, F. G. (1988). The characterization of Jim in Huckleberry Finn. Nineteenth-Century Literature, 43(3), 361-391.
Twain, M. (1994). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York, NY: Glassbook Classic.