Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Term Paper

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Huck Finn

In Mark Twain's Huckeberry Finn, the title character and escaped slave Jim bond together in their mutual quest for freedom. Neither knows where they are headed, but they do know where they have been and what they are running from. Both have endured a different type of slavery. Jim escapes from the actual legally sanctioned and racialized form of slavery; whereas Huck Finn is running from an abusive father who literally locks him up. Therefore, Huck Finn and his friend Jim are mirrors for each other as well as partners. It matters not that their backgrounds are different, and in spite of the overarching theme of race, the two friends bond psychologically in a mutually respectful and mutually protective relationship.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim go out of their ways to help one another while they are on the island, and after. There is no formal bond of loyalty between them; their connection is unspoken and assumed. However, the friendship between Huck Finn and Jim does not develop organically as the friendship between the two white boys Huck and Tom Sawyer develops. On the contrary, Huck is well aware of the social norms that constrain the evolution of his friendship with Jim. At the beginning of the novel, Jim is just a "nig" and not in any way differentiated as a character. Huck participates willingly in the humiliation and bullying of Jim, who is an easy target because of his low social status and inability to fight back. It is only after Huck and Jim share a common moment of crisis and alienation that they create their own universe, and their own little family unit.

Within the family unit that Huck Finn and Jim create together, Jim serves in the parenting role. Jim is older than Huck, evident in his longing for the family that was torn apart due to slavery and also for his relatively mature, sober outlook on life. Jim's demeanor is contrasted with that of Huck, and
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especially Tom Sawyer. Unlike the boys, Jim seems level headed. His sobering attitude is revealed most of all at the end of the story, when Jim sacrifices his own freedom in order to do what he believes is morally right -- that is, to help Tom. Why Jim would help a boy who wanted to throw rocks at him is unclear; it makes Jim seem like a weak man and not like someone who was willing to fight for his freedom. Jim's surrender represents the futility of his trying to escape from slavery in the first place.

However, Huckleberry Finn is not about Jim. What goes on in Jim's head is not available to the reader, who only learns from Huck's perspective what it might be like to be an escaped slave. Huck also does not see Jim as a father figure, even if Jim acts that way towards Huck. For Huck, Jim is an equal and a friend, or at least a partner in his plans to escape. As Jehlen (1995) puts it, "the two principal characters, Huck and Jim, represent the two sides of the dilemma: Huck strikes out for an absolute freedom, while Jim requires, in order to gain his own freedom, that Huck qualify his freedom by entering into the pursuit of Jim's," (p. 2).

The friendship that develops between Huck and Jim is one that is ironically equal in spite of their age difference. Their equality is related directly to the racist undertones of Twain's novel. Jim is an adult, but because he is black, he is the intellectual equivalent of a white child. Had Twain written Jim as a child slave, the relationship and friendship would have been an egalitarian one. As Robinson (1988) states, Jim becomes a "two-dimensional parody, a racial stereotype with roots in the minstrel tradition…one symptom among many others of Mark Twain's failure of moral vision and artistic integrity," (p. 361).

Throughout much of the novel, Jim has a degree of power especially as he appears wiser than Huck. For example, Jim encounters the dead body and will not show it to Huck. When it is later revealed that the…

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References

Arac, J. (1992). Nationalism, hypercanonization, and Huckleberry Finn. Boundary 2, 19(1).

Chadwick-Joshua, J. (1998). The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn. University Press of Mississippi.

Jehlen, M. (1995). From Banned in Concord: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and classic American literature. In The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain, Forrest G. Robinson ed. (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Robinson, F.G. (1988). The characterization of Jim in Huckleberry Finn. Nineteenth Century Literature 43(3): Dec 1988.

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