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Character Analysis in Mark Twain’s Works

Introduction

By portraying the relationship between a young white boy {Huck} and a black slave {Jim} – a relationship that sees the racially prejudiced suspicion of the former dissolve and replaced by a warm friendship with the black slave – Mark Twain does well to depict the gross injustice of slavery and racism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a depiction that does not only reflect the conditions during those days, but that is a reflection of the author’s own personal beliefs born as a result of his experiences in his personal life. This is especially the case as far as the third stage of the relationship between Huck and Jim is concerned.

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The third stage of the relationship begins when Huck forces Jim to escape with him on a raft when he learns of Loftus’ plans to search the island for a suspected runaway slave (Twain, 2003, page 112). They build a wigwam on the raft and stealthily row downriver, taking care to conceal themselves during daytime and travel only during nights. Their raft turns into a shelter steeped in brotherhood and equality that keeps them safe from an ever encroaching society. They support each other well, obtaining food by buying or hunting while sometimes resorting to robbery. They share pleasant moments exploring literary treasures in books that they appropriate from the robbers’ raid of the Walter Scott. Jim is enthralled to hear Huck read stories of famous kings like Solomon and the Dauphin {son of French king Louis XVI}. Huck’s reading activities frequently end in light bantering arguments with Huck humorously giving up hopes of convincing a skeptical Jim about matters like the French do not speak English, and that the threat of King Solomon to cut a child in half was not a foolish way to solve a dispute “’bout a whole child wid a half a chile” (Twain, 2003, page 134), but the clever ploy of a wise man to identify the guilty party. Jim never tries to advice Huck even though he recognizes the latter’s foolhardiness in several actions, because of an underlying fear that Huck, being a white, can easily turn him in to the authorities and get a substantial reward. To his credit, such a thought never enters the mind of Huck as not only was deviousness absent in his character but by that time he had developed a genuine affection for his black companion.

Similarities between Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain

Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri on 30 November, 1835 (Merriman, 2006, para.8). There are several similarities between Huck Finn in the story and Mark Twain in the form of their backgrounds, their perception of slavery and their reactions to it.

The first similarity concerns their background. While Huck is a 15-year old white boy who comes from an impoverished background and is forced to largely fend for himself, Twain, a white himself, is forced by circumstances {his father dies in 1847 and leaves the family in great financial difficulties} to leave school at the age of 11 and begin working for several newspapers and magazines (Merriman, 2006, para.9).

The second similarity concerns the way slavery and its practices are perceived. Huck is so sickened by what he sees around him that he forces the slave to escape with him although he is well aware of the punishment he could receive by giving such help. Similarly, as Missouri was one of the states that condoned slavery and fought on the side of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, Twain’s childhood {he was born in Florida, Missouri on 30 November, 1835 (Merriman, 2006, para.8)} was full of many first-hand observations of the many ways African Americans were oppressed, especially by lynch mobs preying on runaway slaves (Merriman, 2006, para.5). Perhaps the turning point in Twain’s perception of slavery was the day {he was a young boy then} he observed the death of a defenseless slave at the hands of his master when the latter struck him savagely with a rock just for “merely doing something awkward” (Lombardi, 2009, para.4). Twain developed a total opposition to slavery as well as any type of purposeless violence. Besides being an eloquent public speaker, he made his feeling and perceptions known through a large number of witticisms and quips mingled with biting criticism contained in his articles and letters written in unpretentious language (Merriman, 2006, para.7). A good example of his perception about slavery in general is his writing in The Lowest Animal: “Man is the only Slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves” (Lombardi, 2009, para.10). Another example of the contempt he felt towards slavery is the 1904 entry in his notebook: “The skin of every human being contains a slave” (Lombardi, 2009, para.8).

The third similarity between Huck and Twain is the sympathy that both persons feel for African Americans. The camaraderie that develops between Huck and Jim {exemplifying African Americans in general} that begins during the first stage of their relationship {when they both go into hiding, but for different reasons}, gains in strength in the second stage, and by time the third stage comes around, they are firm friends with Huck firmly believing that there is nothing different between blacks and whites. This camaraderie with African Americans is well elucidated by Mark Twain in his 1853 letter: “I reckon I had better black my face, for in these Eastern states, Negroes are considerably better than white people” (Lombardi, 2009, para.5).

The fourth similarity between Huck and Twain is the great love they exhibit for River Mississippi. After working in New York and Philadelphia for several years, Twain returned to St. Louis in 1857 where he was so attracted by the graceful steamboats and gay crowds that he lost no time in first working as a river pilot apprentice under Horace Bixby, and then obtaining his own license a year later. Twain then spent a memorable and enjoyable time piloting steamboats on River Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans when he developed a great affection for the second largest river in the world. This is evident from his writing in Life on the Mississippi {1883}: “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice” (Merriman, 2006, para.9&10). In the story, Huck forces Jim to escape the searching posse by sailing in a raft on River Mississippi. In fact, the raft in the story has assumed great significance as it symbolizes an idealistic liberation from harsh domination, shattered family lives, unfair treatment based on race and social injustice (Merriman, 2006, para.3).

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The last similarity between Huck and Twain is that in the end, their experience with slavery ends on a happy note for them both. Huck is tremendously pleased and relieved when Jim is declared a free man on the strength of the will written by his owner Miss Watson before she died two months ago (“She set him free in her will” (Twain, 2003, page 365). Twain was happy to see end of slavery with its accompanying evil of racial discrimination that came about when Abraham Lincoln’s Union army defeated the Confederates in 1865. This satisfaction is reflected in the sage words of Twain’s last written statement: “Death is the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all” (Merriman, 2006, para.18).

Conclusion

Mark Twain is ranked among the foremost authors who not only lived at a time when slavery was rampant in southern U.S states, but who did their best to expose the evils involved in the practice including racial discrimination against African Americans. Although he did not openly criticize the Southern societal norms vis-à-vis African Americans, there were times when he came very close to doing so. A good example is The War Prayer in which he wrote: “In the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause” {this article was withheld by Mark Twain’s family for fear of a public backlash against them; it was eventually published in 1923, much after Twain’s death in 1910} (Merriman, 2006, para.5). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is an excellent example of the author’s camaraderie with African Americans and his opposition to slavery, has attracted widespread acclaim that is well elucidated by eminent writer Ernest Hemmingway: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn” (Merriman, 2006, para.3).

References

Lombardi, E. Mark Twain – What Did Mark Twain Write About Slavery? Was He a Racist? Web.

Merriman, C.D. (2006). Mark Twain. Web.

Twain, M. (2003). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. UK: Penguin Books.

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