The Novel, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, by Mark Twain is about a boy named Huck, and a slave named Jim’s adventure to find freedom the story is centered in Missouri. Both Huck and Jim are looking for freedom from different things. Huck is looking for freedom from the grips of society, while Jim is looking for freedom from physical enslavement. In the end they find freedom, but not in the way they were expecting. Mark Twain wrote this book, not only to tell a story but to criticize both society and racism. While Mark Twain tries to depict Huck and Jim as similar because they have both been victimized by society, he fails to account for their differences as we still see a division between them with the large amount of racism that is used throughout the book.
The theme of racism is present throughout this whole novel. It is used in both language and actions, committed by all characters. Even though Huck was just a boy he also constantly uses racial slurs. An example of this is in chapter 16 when Huck is talking to Jim at night while they are drifting down the river, and he says, “Conscience says to me, ‘What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word?”(Twain 175). Mark Twain’s constant use of racism really questions the fact that Jim really escaped the grip of racism and slavery that he was aiming to escape throughout the book. It would make sense that the closer he got to “freedom” to less he would be restrained to these types of things, but this is not the case. This question is confirmed in an article by Cassander Smith, a professor with a PhD in English from the University of Alabama, called; “’Nigger’ or ‘slave’: why labels matter for Jim (and Twain) in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. In this article she writes that, “The irony of Jim’s moral growth is that he remains subjected to the dehumanizing label of ‘nigger,’ which expresses a permanent state of (non) being. Some critics complain that the ending of the novel shows Jim has essentially been running in place, having achieved no progress”(Smith). Although in the book, Jim does end up escaping slavery and gaining his physical freedom, as he was freed in his masters will, it cannot be said that he actually escaped the grips of racism and the mindset of many people during this time due to the ideas still present in society.
In the novel Mark Twain makes Huck Finn seem like he is sick of society, the way they act, how they treat people, and he wants to get away from society completely. Throughout the story in many instances it can be seen that Huck despises society based on what he says about it. An example of this is right at the beginning of the book in chapter one when he says, ““That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it” (Twain 121). He says this because he is aggravated at Widow Douglas because she did not want him smoking. It can be seen that this is part of the reason he despises society because does not like to be told what to do whether it is right or wrong. Ironically although Huck is portrayed to hate society’s views and how they treat people it can be seen that he shares some of their views specifically when it comes to race and slavery. He still constantly says things that society would say such as in chapter 14 when he says, “Well, he was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a nigger” (Twain 167). Although it could be said that Huck was just wrongly influenced by his father to believe stuff like this such as when his father said, “Thinks I, what is this country a-coming to? It was ’lection day, and I was just about to go and vote, myself, if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin” (Twain 137). It can be seen that by growing up around Pap Huck’s views on things were influenced by him, whether he wants to believe those things or not. This idea is supported in a crtitical essay by Katherine Egerton, she writes, “ For these Huck Finns, Pap may sometimes be an unreliable sot, but he is not without affection. Far from local color, these tales are as old as human telling and as universal as story itself” (Egerton). Although Huck hates society for their views and what they tell him to do his life has been greatly influenced by society. No matter how much he tries to escape it he will always be influenced by society.
Mark Twain portrays both Huck and Jim trying to escape society for different reasons but as united in the cause. While it can be seen that most if not all of society during this time period had similar ideas about race and slavery specifically about Jim, it can’t really be said that Huck has reasons to escape society as a whole he just has had bad encounters with a few people. Jim is not capable of fitting in to society in his current state due to the widespread mindset of a white patriarchal society. In an Article written by Richard Godden a professor at the University of California Irvine states, “In each of these texts the potential complexity of black/white relations appears to be reduced” (Godden). In this book it seems like the relationship has been brought down to seem like society as a whole has the same mindset about racism and slavery, there are not many outliers when it comes to Jim’s case. On the other hand, Huck could fit in to society and be accepted if he chose too, he just feels like society is against him due to what has happened to him throughout his childhood, such as him being abused by his father and felt like he was restrained by Widow Douglas. This is part of what unites him and Jim, that fact that they have both never felt accepted into society. Huck was raised to believe that he did not belong in society by his father, because of how he was raised he hated society because he believed everyone just let it happen to him. It can be seen that he is reflecting on his own experience in chapter 33 when he sees the Duke and the Dauphin being punished and he says, “Humans can be awfully cruel to one another” (Twain 264). Huck has seen a lot of cruelty due to his father and is assuming this of society as a whole. The harm of the abuse Pap inflicts on Huck can be seen in an essay written by Jenifer Elmore and C. Dale Girardi called, “Reversing the curse: slavery, child abuse, and Huckleberry Finn”. They write, “Perhaps the most harmful of these abuses is the corruption he inflicts upon Huck, for, as a cognitively developing young boy, Huck does not have enough mental stability and self-knowledge to counteract Pap’s insidious intent to ruin his son and render him unfit for civilized society”(Elmore). In reality the only person society is truly against in this story is Jim, who cannot have freedom in this current state, but Huck could be accepted into society if he wanted to be but due to his traumatic childhood he has developed misconceptions that make him want to stay away from society.
Mark Twain’s Novel, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is about more than Huck and Jim achieving freedoms from slavery and captivity of society. It was written to show the dangers of following society and the mindset or racism during the time it was written. Although the story shows that Jim’s physical enslavement is not the only form of captivity such as Huck feeling enslaved to society. It fails to account for the fact that during this time period neither Huck or Jim could completely escape from both slavery and society due to the mindset of the people during this society and the previous influences on their lives. Throughout the course of the story it can be seen that while Huck and Jim are both united in the cause to achieve freedom, they still share many differences which can be seen through the dialect in the story.
- Egerton, Katherine. ”When You Were a Man’: Pinckney Benedict’s Fathers and Sons.’ Appalachian Heritage, vol. 38, no. 1, 2010, p. 44. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A222678800/LitRC?u=tel_a_etsul&sid=LitRC&xid=d606f054. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
- Elmore, Jenifer, and C. Dale Girardi. ‘Reversing the curse: slavery, child abuse, and Huckleberry Finn.’ American Literary Realism, vol. 49, no. 1, 2016, p. 1+. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A472370438/LitRC?u=tel_a_etsul&sid=LitRC&xid=a1f76acb. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
- Godden, Richard, and Mary A. Mccay. ‘Say it again, Sam[bo]: race and speech in Huckleberry Finn and Casablanca.’ The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 4, 1996, p. 657+. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A168292073/LitRC?u=tel_a_etsul&sid=LitRC&xid=dfb7e3d5. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
- Smith, Cassander L. ”Nigger’ or ‘slave’: why labels matter for Jim (and Twain) in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.’ Papers on Language & Literature, vol. 50, no. 2, 2014, p. 182. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A373887360/LitRC?u=tel_a_etsul&sid=LitRC&xid=fc761b62. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
- Twain, Mark. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The Norton Anthology American Literature, edited by Robert S. Levine, Ninth Edition, Volume C, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2017, pp. 120-302.