When considering Mark Twains attitude towards slavery, it is important to remember that Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn between 1876 and 1883, after the American Civil War, but the setting for the novel was pre-war. Although Huckleberry Finn is widely considered to be one of the greatest American works of art, it was condemned in terms of slavery by many reviewers in Twains time as coarse and by many critics in our time as racist. In order to come to any conclusions on this matter one must look closely at the different perspectives of slavery that Twain presents the reader with throughout the novel, not only through the slaves themselves but also through societys treatment of slavery.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain portrays how Southern society accepts, unquestioningly the principle of slavery. Through the character of Huck and his internal debates, we see the conflict between what is morally right and what is legally enforced, and it is through the eyes of Huck that Twain presents the issue of slavery. At the beginning of the novel we see Huck oppressed by the Widow Douglass expectations into conforming, and in some ways one might consider that Huck himself is a slave; to the ideals of society. We learn in the first chapter that Huck is lonely and seeks a less restrictive life through means of escape;
she took me for her son and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldnt stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags, and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.
It is also within this first chapter, that we are introduced to slaves as characters in the novel. Hucks description of Miss Watsons big nigger, named Jim, may imply a racist attitude towards Jim, however soon after he counteracts this by his obvious awe and one might argue; respect for Jim; ..he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. This obvious contradiction also sets a pattern for the rest of the novel, as we see the inner struggle Huck faces in order to either conform to societys expectations and treat black people in the socially accepted manner, or to follow his heart and treat all people the same; according to how well they earn his respect.
Huck and Jim, as unlikely a pair as they might seem, form a bond through the course of the novel that supersedes friendship, one might
go so far as to say their relationship is almost that of father and son, which may have been the intention of the forward thinking Twain. For a black slave to be the father of a white son, is of course at this time impossible by societys standards, however by presenting the reader with such impossibility, he, at the same time shows how impossibilities can be overcome; does Jim not make for a far more suitable role model than the drunkard Pap And so it gradually becomes clear that the two characters leave the constraints of society behind them and create their own world on the water- it is within this world that the influence of societal values are suppressed in favour of a more logical, practical system of values
Throughout the novel we see how appearance and skin colour is the only criteria considered by society in determining who is afforded rights, it appears that regardless of how immoral a white man might be, he is still afforded more power than that of a highly moral black character like Jim. The fact that Pap is awarded custody of Huck illustrates this lack of logic in decisions made by society. The novel continuously presents the reader with these attitudes through the characters of Huck and Jim and their journeying relationship. Twain takes a calculated risk with the character of Jim, who is a runaway slave in search of literal and figurative freedom from the constraints that society inflicts upon him as a slave, for Twain must have realised the potential power of his writing and still chose to create a character in Jim that breaks all the rules; he is presented as intelligent, analytical, highly moral and yet he is black.
Here one could argue that Twains very willingness to portray such an integral character like Jim, whom the readers will sympathise with, presents an attitude that is undoubtedly anti- slavery, as Gray explains; The book is about the historical injustice of slavery, of course, and the social inequity of racism, the human use or denial of human beings.
However, the novels attitude to slavery is at times ambiguous, mainly due to the fact that it is Hucks story, so we are only to learn his point of view, and are left to interpret the other characters attitudes through Hucks descriptions of their actions. It appears at times that Huck is without prejudice towards his black friend in one instance, as we see in chapter 11 with Hucks anxiety to help keep Jim out of danger, Git up and hump yourself, Jim! There aint a minute to
lose. Theyre after us! However we also see another side to Hucks attitude, as he sometimes sees Jim as a slave, as property that should be returned.
Despite the revolutionary racial equality presented to the reader throughout the novel, it could be argued that racism still plays its part in the overall plot. As we can see when Jim and Huck are separated in the fog and Huck attempts to trick Jim into believing he had dreamt the whole thing, Jim is not happy when he realises what Huck has done and vocalises his displeasure
Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey frens en makes em ashamed It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back.
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger…
Written during a time in which racial inequality is the norm, these thoughts of Hucks are fully understandable, though because of Twains presentation of Jim, the reader might well be shocked that Huck could appear so racist towards him. This displays the recurrent theme of Hucks uncertainty over what takes priority; on the one hand he has what his upbringing has ingrained within him in terms of the treatment of slaves, and yet on the other he feels that this is wrong and values Jims friendship. One might suggest that this constant struggle within Huck is what gives the novels attitudes against slavery such strength; the reader is presented with both right and wrong and although one may come to ones own conclusions at some point in the novel, Hucks constant change of opinion will undoubtedly cause questioning. At one point in the novel it even appears that Jim becomes an object to Huck; a piece of treasure, he almost acts as though he owns Jim. For example, when Huck and Tom refer to releasing Jim from Slavery later in the novel they do not see this as Jims actual freedom; Tom Sawyer was in earnest and was actually going to help steal that nigger out of slavery. The use of the word steal here highlights how even though Huck is in fact doing a good deed by Jim, he doesnt actually free him because he stole him, meaning in some small way that Jim is then Hucks property.
And so the arguement may continue…but as a writer Twain holds a certain amount of responsibilty in representing such a historic period in time factually, and in order to create a realistic representation he undoubtedly has to portray racism and slavery how it actually was and to romanticise the subject would not only be unrealistic in terms of story telling, but it would also be an injustice to American History and all those who suffered.
A young renegade, Huck Finn, and a runaway slave, Jim, float down the Misshippippi on a raft, having all manner of adventures.”
Huck Finn is, in my opinion (and in Hemingways also) the greatest novel written by an American. Its trenchant social analysis through the interaction of the persons in the story is breath-taking in its power to open a whole world, one thankfully now gone, where people viewed reality in an entirely different way than we do now. His examination of the Southern culture of Honor is also effective in opening to view the attitude that produced the four bloodiest years in our Nations history. A masterpiece of masterpieces.”
In Mark Twains classic Bildungsroman, Huck Finn, fleeing for his life from his drunken father, Pap, encounters the runaway slave, Jim, and the two become traveling companions. In their desperate quest for freedom, Huck comes to know, admire, respect, and love Jim as a fellow human being, rather than regarding him as just a slave. When he must decide between betraying Jim or (as he believes) consigning himself to eternal torment in hell, Huck opts for the latter course, showing the great nobility of his character. Now, if Huck and Jim can only survive Tom Sawyers plan to liberate the captured Jim, all may end well, despite their many setbacks and the terrible lessons they have learned from the likes of the Duke and the Dauphin, the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, and the other frauds and villains they have encountered on their raft trip together down the Mississippi River. This novel is a stinging indictment of mans inhumanity to man; at the same time, it is one of the most humorous books ever written
This book picks up where The Adventures of Tom Sawyer leaves off. After Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn get to keep the treasure theyve found, Huck Finn gets adopted by a widow who lives in their small town on the Mississippi River. She invests his money for him. This is going to prove a problem when his drunk father shows back up in town demanding his son and his sons money be turned over to him.
For a time, the bad “Pap” is going to keep Huck locked up in a cabin. When he goes on benders, he abuses the boy terribly. Finally Huck and a local slave boy, Jim, take it upon themselves to run away. They hope to make it all the way up north where Jim can be free.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain, is one of the most important works in American literary history. From the time of its publication in 1884, controversy has surrounded the work. Fortunately, the banning and controversy has not prevented this work from being studied and enjoyed.
In this audio collection, Dick Hill recreates the voice of Huckleberry Finn. He reminds us why this work still presents such a spectacle after all these years. Its simply unforgettable.
Continuation of a Tale
We first met Huck Finn in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” As Huck explains in the first chapter, “You dont know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that aint no matter.” Huck then brings us up to date, letting us know about the robbers and the money.
As Huck lets us know, weve come a long way from his misadventures with Tom Sawyer in that earlier book. As the publisher writes, “Twain took his most outrageous and outcast character (and perhaps the one he loved the most), Huckleberry Finn, from the book and wrote his own Adventures.” And, this time, Twain creates many more obstacles for Huck to overcome, with dangers like drowning, being tar-and-feathered, and being shot ever at hand.
Twain already sets up his book to be converted to audio when he explains the various dialects: “In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary Pike County dialect; and four modified varieties of this last.”
Twains wonderful sense of language allows us to hear some of the flare each dialect offers. And, without hearing some semblance of the “real thing,” its often difficult for students of this novel to understand the plot and dialogue. With its more dynamic format, this collection leads students to a better understanding of the language and context. While not replacing the book, it offers a great addition to the study of Huck Finn.
Why This Book Why Now
Of course, Ive heard it before, and Im sure Ill hear it again. Students (and other readers, as well) cant understand what the big deal is with “Huckleberry Finn.” Hes a 14-year old boy, who is abused by his father until he runs away from home, setting the scene so theyll all think him dead. It doesnt sound like a terribly important story, nothing far-fetched. And, with all of the controversy surrounding the book and the objectionable language contained in this book, some people may well wonder why the book wasnt completely destroyed long ago.
Theres just something about this book that has captured our imaginations for all these many decades. Perhaps, thats part of the reason the book has been considered so dangerous… Huck Finn has provided entertainment to thousands, if not millions, of children and adult s from all over the world. Hes a rapscallion, but we cant help but like and remember him.
The book is also a definitive addition to the development of the novel in America literature. Like James Joyce and so many other authors in literary history, Twain helped redefine the writers voice and his words and works have dramatically influenced writers who have come since.
Now, this audio collection offers another look at the novel, a way for us to listen to it all over again, to appreciate the the flow of language, the humor, the tragedy, and the triumph of Mark Twains most famous work.