Essay, Research Paper
The Presence of Racism In
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
There is a major argument among literary critics whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is or is not a racial novel. The question comes down to the depiction of the character Jim, the black slave, and the way he is treated by Huck and other characters. The use of the word nigger is also a point raised by some critics, who feel that Twain uses the work too much and too loosely.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might appear to be a racist novel. The first time Jim is introduced 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 to realize who is giving this description. Even though Huck is not a racist child, he has been raised by extremely racist people who have influenced his morals and beliefs. Twain is only portraying the chilling truth about the old south (Salwen). Jim is a very realistic slaved raised in the South during times of heavy racism.
Many characters use the word nigger throughout [the novel]. But since the action of the book takes place in the south twenty years before the Civil War, it would be amazing if they didn t use that word (Salwen). Twain was simply trying to capture the way people in the south would have actually acted towards blacks in the South at that time. He tries to make it as realistic as possible.
A closer look reading also reveals Twain s serious satiric intent. In one scene, for instance, Aunt Sally hears of a steamboat explosion. Good gracious! Anybody hurt? she asks. No, comes the answer. Killed a nigger. This is to show that white people really didn t think of blacks as actual people, they were nothing. Blacks were treated as less that human and Twain needed to portray this. Some examples of the ways Jim is denigrated are him being locked up, having to hide his face in the daytime and how he generally derided are necessary for historical accuracy. Twain had to display Jim s treatment in this manner, even if it is not the way he felt.
Yet, there are many points in the novel where Twain through Huck, voices his opposition to the slave trade and racism. In chapter six, Huck s father objects to the government s granting of suffrage to an educated black professor. Twain wants the reader to see the absurdity of this statement. Huck s father believes that he is superior to this black professor simply because of the color of his skin. Also in chapter 15 the reader is told of an incident, which contradicts the original childlike description of Jim. In this chapter 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 that has been made between Huck and Jim. He shows that it is possible for a white man and a black man to have a very close friendship without the topic of race ever crossing one s mind. When Huck first meets Jim on the island he makes a monumental decision, not to turn Jim in. The force of society and the force of friendship are opposing forces by which he has to make his decision.
Many times throughout the novel Huck comes very close to rationalizing Jim s slavery. However, he is never able to see a reason why this man who has become one of his only friends, should be a slave. Through his struggle, Twain expresses his opinions of the absurdity of slavery and the importance of following one s personal property and an inferior man, but an equal (Perry). By the end of their journey Huck disagrees with society s notion that blacks are inferior.
Claims that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is racist are simply attempts to damage the image of a classic novel. The claims come from people who are hurt by racism and don t like seeing it in any context. However, they have to realize that this novel and its author are not racist, and the purpose of the story is to prove black equality.
Throughout the novel society s voice is heard through Huck. The racist and hateful contempt, which existed at the time, is at many times present. But, it is vital for the reader to recognize these ideas as society s and to recognize that Twain throughout the novel disputes these ideas. Twain brings 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 challenge to it.
Perry, T.S. The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine May 1885
San Francisco Evening Bulletin. 14 March 1885
Salwen. Is Huck Finn Racist?