Mark Twain, in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, captures the relationship of people from all levels of society and gives the reader a lesson in being human. Drawing on his own experiences, Twain introduces the reader to a variety of characters: Miss Watson, an elderly women who is kind to others, but owns slaves; Pap, an angry drunken father who abuses his son; Huck and Tom, two young boys who are imaginative and adventurous; the Duke and the King, men who will break any rule for their own benefit; and Jim, a slave. Although Twain titles his novel Huckleberry Finn and presents the development and growth of the main character, Huck, the novel’s most important message comes from the development of the character Jim. Jim is called a slave, but he is not enslaved by his owner, Miss Watson, or society: Jim in enslaved by his own integrity. Jim could have escaped to freedom several times in the novel, but he loses the opportunity when he unselfishly comes to the aid of two young boys. Twain presents the integrity and humanity of Jim through his common sense approach to problems and his devotion and self-sacrifice in his relationship to Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Jim first appears in the novel in Chapter 2, and his style of speech and his discussion of witches and the devil present him as uneducated. Tom Sawyer slips Jim’s hat off when he is sleeping and hangs the hat on a limb. Mark Twain describes Jim’s reaction: “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 tree again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it” (18). Every time Jim tells the story about the hat it changes and other slaves “would come for miles to hear Jim talk about it” (18). This superstitious story telling presents Jim as a person without common sense, but his common sense is obvious when he and Huck face difficulties on the Mississippi River. Jim reads signs in nature and reads the nature of people they meet. When “Some young birds come along, flying a yard or two at a time and lighting. Jim said it was a sign it was going to rain,” a sign that he learned from watching chickens (53). Later, Huck reports that “soon it darkened up, and began to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it” (58). This is the beginning of Huck recognizing that Jim has learned many helpful common sense signs and solutions to problems.
Jim’s common sense is also evident in Chapter 19 and the following chapters that concern the Duke and the King. Jim, along with Huck, recognize that the two men sharing their boat and insisting that Huck and Jim bow and serve them are liars and con men. Jim has learned to use common sense in judging the actions of their new acquaintances. Jim also shows common sense when he discovers the body of Huck’s father and advises Huck “but doan’ look at his face–it’s too gashly” (59). Jim knows that Huck does not need to see his father naked or the shot wound in his back. He protects Huck from the shock and loss.
The protection and devotion to Huck continues throughout the novel. Jim could have escaped many times, but stays out of concern for Huck. In Chapter 15, Huck is in a canoe and Jim is on the raft when they become separated in a dense fog. It would be reasonable for Jim to make his escape to freedom at this point, but he pulls the raft to the shore and waits for Huck. He is both surprised and excited to see his adventurous partner:
“Goodness gracious is dat you, Huck? En you ain’ dead–you ain’ drowned–you’s back ag’in? It’s too good to be true, honey, it’s too good for true. Lemme look at you chile, lemme feel o’ you. No, you ain’ dead! you’s back ag’in, ‘live en soun’, jis de same ole Huck–de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness! (89)
On page 91 of the same chapter, Jim adds, “When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin’ for you en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’t k’yer no’ mo’ what become er me ende raf.” Later in the novel, Huck decides to turn Jim in to the authorities because he feels guilty about helping a runaway slave. He leaves Jim with the raft, providing another opportunity for Jim to escape. Jim, loyal to Huck, waits and, when Huck returns, “grabbed [him] and hugged [him]” and declares “Lawsy, I’s mighty glad to git you back ag’in, honey” (117). Jim remains free and devoted to Huck as the two continue down the river together.
Jim’s integrity and humanity are once again demonstrated in his self-sacrifice in Chapter 40. Although Jim allows Tom to make a complicated escape plan and follows the drama that Tom creates, Jim does not escape to freedom. He is concerned about Tom Sawyer who was shot during the escape. Jim knows that he and Huck cannot find freedom down the river without attending to Tom’s injury. He protests Huck’s plan to move on without Tom: “No, sah–I doan’ budge a step out’n dis place ‘dout a doctor; not if it’s forty year!” (261) Jim stays with Tom until Huck can find a doctor, once again demonstrating self-sacrifice.
At this point in the novel, Huck pays Jim the greatest of compliments. He says, “I knowed he was white inside” (261). Before his adventures with Jim, Huck did not recognize the humanity of slaves. Huck recognizes it in Jim at the end of the novel; he no longer sees Jim as different than white people. Early in the novel when Huck discovers Jim on the island, Huck judges the runaway slave as superstitious and ignorant. The long trip down the Mississippi River and the encounters with people along the way have changed Huck’s judgment of Jim. Once seen as a superstitious slave, Jim is seen by both Huck and the reader as person of integrity and loyalty.