mIn recent years, there has been increasing discussion of the seemingly racist ideas expressed by Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In some cases, the novel has been banned by public school systems and even censored by public libraries. Along with the excessive use of the word, nigger, the basis for this blatant censorship has been the portrayal of one of the main characters in Huck Finn, Jim, a black slave who runs away from his owner, Miss Watson. At several points in the novel, Jim’s character is described to the reader, and some people have looked upon the presented characterization as racist. However, before one begins to censor a novel it important to distinguish the ideas of the author from the ideas of his characters. It is also important to read carefully to sufficiently capture the underlying themes of a novel. If one were to do this in relation to Huck Finn, one would, without a doubt, realize that it is not racist and is, in fact, anti-slavery.
On an superficial level The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might appear to be racist. The first time we meet Jim he is given a very negative description. The reader is told that Jim is illiterate, childlike, not very bright, and extremely superstitious. However, it is important not to lose sight of who is giving this description and who it is being given to. Although Huck is not a racist child, he has been raised by extremely racist individuals who have, even if only subconsciously, planted some feelings of superiority into the roots of his mind. It is also important to remember that this description, although quite saddening, is probably accurate. Jim and the millions of other slaves in the South were not given or allowed any formal education, were never allowed any independent thought and were constantly maltreated and abused. Twain is merely portraying a very realistic slave in the South during that time period. To say that Twain is racist because of his desire for historical accuracy is absurd. He simple strives to show a true representation of societys view of slaves.
Despite the few incidences of which Jim’s description might be misconstrued as racist, there are many points in the novel where through Huck, Twain voices his extreme opposition to the slave trade and racism. In chapter six, Huck’s father fervently objects to the governments granting of voting rights to an educated black professor. Twain wants the reader to see the absurdity in this statement. Huck’s father believes that he is superior to this black professor simply because of the color of his skin. In chapter 15, the reader is told of an incident which contradicts the original “childlike” description of Jim. The reader is presented with a very caring and father-like Jim who becomes very worried when he loses his best friend Huck in a deep fog. Twain is pointing out the connection between Huck and Jim. A connection which does not exist between a man and his property.
When Huck first meets Jim on the Island he makes a monumental decision – whether to turn Jim in or not. He is confronted by two often opposing forces: the force of society and the force of friendship. Huck, although he tries, he is never able to see a reason why this man who has become one of his only friends, should be a slave. By way of this internal struggle, Twain expresses his opinions of the absurdity of slavery and the importance of following one’s personal conscience before the laws of society. By the end of the novel, Huck and the reader have come to understand that Jim is not someone’s property and an inferior man, but an equal.
Throughout the novel society’s voice is heard through Huck. The racist and hateful contempt which existed at the time is easily apparent in the book. But, it is vital for the reader to recognize these ideas as society’s and to recognize that Twain disputes these ideas. Twain brings out into the open the ugliness of society and causes the reader to challenge the original description of Jim. In his subtle manner, he creates not an apology for slavery but a challenge to it. Twains opposition to slavery nudges America to think about the cruelty and lack of humanity dwelling in the cold institution of slavery.
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