In Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, fact and fiction are two concepts well stated. The novel’s main theme is the racial relationship among people of a different race. Writing hilariously, Mark Twain is able to bring out the contrast of fiction from the fact in the real world. In this article, I will discuss the theme of racism in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry and how relevant it is to the reality that existed at that time by examining the relationship between Mark Twain’s life and the story.
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Mark Twain, commonly known by his fans, was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The sixth child in the family of seven, Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835, in Missouri to a slave trader father John Marshall Clemens who also worked as an attorney and a judge. His mother was Jane Lampton Clemens and little is known of her. On his death, Mark Twain was credited as the greatest humorist and satirical writer of the time. His work was widely read and appreciated by people of all ages and races.
The Adventures of Huckleberry was written when slavery and racism were being overwhelmingly practiced. In the story, the theme of class among the blacks and the whites is well portrayed. The fact of the matter was that the blacks were less regarded and would not be required to have any privileges. They were denied freedom of resting after hard work let alone being found at home. In the story we see Twain portraying the opposite where Jim the black boy is seen relaxing at his home: “Miss. Watson’s big nigger, named Jim, was setting in the kitchen door, we could see him pretty clear.”1 This is contrary to the fact that the boy was not allowed to be at home at that time of the day. His place was in the field where he was required to be toiling.
Loyalty and friendship among two people of different races were unheard of. The whites could not mingle with the blacks and there was no room for friendship. The blacks were supposed to be slaves and therefore would not befriend their masters. In the story, we see the opposite where Twain’s characters, who are of different races, become close friends. Huck who was white and had vowed his friendship to Jim was black and called a nigger by the writer. We see the two walking together on the banks of the Mississippi river sharing ideas and talking freely. Huck goes ahead to confide in Jim his fears about his father’s return. Jim is caring and gives him an honest answer “sometimes he spec he’ll go ‘way, en den ag’in he spec he’ll stay.” 2
In the story, the trust that the two friends enjoy is the opposite of the reality of the time. Twain portrays the contrary where Huck and Jim have trust in each other to extend Huck giving aid to Jim when he tries to escape. The fact that a slave is being helped by a white boy emphasizes the equality of friendship among people of a different race. This is the opposite of how life was. The blacks were slaves who if found at the wrong place at the wrong time would be persecuted and punished severely. Huck sees Jim as an equal without giving a picture that he is white while Jim is black.
The theme of racism is widely used in the book. Twain’s main agenda in writing the book was to emphasize the need for freedom and equality among the people of different races. The characters in the book have the desire to ensure that all races are treated equally. The risk that the characters encounter to earn their freedom portrays the quest and desire to be free from slavery. In the novel, the adventures of Huckleberry the theme of race is seen the book contradicts with the author’s personality.
The reader engrossed in reading the book can without a second thought consider the author a racist. In the book the author addresses the black people as “niggers” this emphasizes that the author was a racist. In fiction, Mark Twain uses a lot of themes that are opposite of his own personality. Twain as a little boy encountered firsthand slavery while growing up in Hannibal, Missouri which was a port town. This made it a center of slavery and the slave trade was widely practiced. Twain’s father has involved in the trade and he had his own slaves as domestic workers in his home. This encounter with the slaves gave Twain a picture of how people of color were treated by white people. The brutal murder of the black people by the white for no apparent reason influenced him to write the book with the desire to change people’s perceptions of others.
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The fact was Twain was open-minded about racism. He was very keen on emphasizing the need for equality between people of all races. In the book we see Aunty Sally enquiring about an explosive “Good gracious! anybody hurt?” she asks. “No’m,” comes the answer. “Killed a nigger.” Well, it’s lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt.”3 The aspect of a black man being dead means nothing to the people in the society. This speaks volumes about the author as his words place him in the racist category. Unlikely, Twain’s personality differs from this perception. He disregarded slavery and racism. He had a soft spot for sales and the black people. He used the words ironically to give emphasis on how the people at the time viewed black people.
Despite being religious the whites did not consider the black people as human beings rather than objects to be used in the fields and other manual activities. Twain, on the other hand, disagrees with society’s point of view.4 In the story we see Jim being overlooked. He has to hide his face from the people. The fact that he is black makes him unacceptable to white people. Huck does not agree with society’s ideologies. He refuses to treat Jim badly and accepts him and he is willing to help Jim when in distress. Huck is faced with the hard decision of saving his friend and giving him up. He debates by himself and asks “s’pose you’d a’ done right and give Jim up? Would you felt better than what you do now? No, I’d feel bad-I’d feel just the same way I do now.”5 This proves how much the author cared about the black people. This aspect portrays the author’s real feelings towards the black people and he cannot be called a racist.
Twain was born and raised in a family where after his father’s death he had to work his way out first as a typesetter and later as a steamboat pilot. In all his early careers he was earning very little money enough to sustain him. This is contrary to what he portrays in the book where the white people are very rich and hard work to gain their wealth. They depended on their slaves to work for them. The fiction side is very different from the fact. Being a white man Twain had to work his way to earn a living.6
Generally, Mark Twain was very ironic in his writing. The whole story is full of fictional facts that are very much opposed to the real facts. The writer’s personality contrasts with the story therefore the facts are different from the fiction. Twain was trying to point out an issue and to be heard he had to use all means of satire and irony to ensure that his point was put across. Mark Twain’s point was that all people are human and cannot be defined by their body color or class.
Fishkin, Shelly. Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices. New York: Oxford University press, 1993.
Messet, Peter. Mark Twain’s life, in the Cambridge introduction to Mark Twain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Waldman and Son Press 1979.
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (New York: Waldman and son Press,1979), 14.
- Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (New York: Waldman and son Press,1979), 26
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (New York: Waldman and son Press,1979), 213.
- Shelly Fisher Fishkin, Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 78.
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (New York: Waldman and son Press,1979), 94.
- Peter Messent, Mark Twain’s life, in the Cambridge introduction to Mark Twain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 25.