Anti-slavery is one of the central aspects of Mark Twain’s iconic novel, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Given the years when the novel was written, Twain’s thoughts and beliefs regarding slavery channeled through the book’s main characters were quite revolutionary and ahead of their time. First things first, the writer introduced Jim’s character, a slave and Huck Finn’s close friend. By refusing to make him one-dimensional and reduce his personality to his status, Mark Twain humanized him and made him a real person.
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Another telltale sign that Mark Twain was anti-slavery is the plot arc with Jim’s liberation. The latter also serves as a test of Huck Finn’s character who is forced to choose between “civilization” that allows making his friend Jim a chattel property and nature that created him a free being. This paper proves that Mark Twain is strongly anti-slavery by discussing each of the aforementioned points.
Jim: More than a Slave
Jim is one of the most interesting and controversial figures in American literature. Different sources hint at the possibility of Twain’s taking inspiration in his uncle’s slave, Uncle Daniel, who impressed him with his kindness and openness. Another possible occurrence that compelled Twain to create Jim’s character is a memorable event in the writer’s life when a friendly farmer saved his and his family’s lives. Right from the beginning of the novel, Jim strikes the reader as a naive and gullible person. He believes in superstitions and is easy to talk into basically anything. At first, this character design may come off as stereotypical for the era when Twain was creating his masterpieces. Jim is obviously uneducated and conditioned by society into believing everything he is told.
However, as the narration progresses, the reader gets a chance to become familiar with the other sides of Jim’s character and see his humanity. The man may be naive to a fault, but this personality trait also makes him fiercely loyal to Huck Finn. In a way, Jim becomes a father figure for the boy who has never been surrounded by love and acceptance. In fact, Jim is so protective of Huck that he is ready to sacrifice his own freedom.
For example, this is how Jim reacts when he thinks that Huck got lost: “”My heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’t k’yer no mo’ what become er me en de raf’ (Twain 348).” Jim is clearly stating that the pain of losing a friend would be greater than losing an opportunity to become a free man.
Further, Jim is street smart: despite the lack of education, he can come to the right conclusions and help other people. One example is him guessing that it is going to rain by observing birds’ behavior. Lastly, another admirable trait that Jim possesses is his faith in the equality of all people. This is how he reacts to the news that people speak different languages around the world: “Well, it’s a blame ridiculous way, en I don’t want to hear no mo’ ’bout it. Dey ain’t’ no sense in it.”; “Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do? (Twain 105)” Jim believes that people are made equal, which makes him reject slavery even more.
The issue of dehumanization of people because of their race is still relevant nowadays. Many people navigate the world using stereotypes that are often offensive and far from the truth. Even though in the United States, slavery has been long abolished, Black people have yet to cease facing its long-term effects. One of them is the poor societal opinion of them that reduces them to their race. Novels like “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” show that it is possible to realize the humanity of another human being by seeing them in other capacities, for instance, in a friendly role.
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Jim’s Liberation and Huck’s Moral Dilemma
Jim’s route to escape is one of the major plot arcs developed by Mark Twain in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Despite being a young boy, Huck has the capacity of devising a plan on how to make Jim a free man. One of the reasons why the boy decides to go against society in this instance is because he has never considered a societal opinion as something to be taken seriously, to begin with.
Uparented and almost feral, Huck is not aware of the existing stereotypes about Black people. Ironically, the fact that he is “uncivilized” is what ultimately helps him to see Jim as more than a slave. Twain’s decision to build the novel around Jim’s escape was not in line with what American society would expect of him. Just like his character Huck, Twain rejected the notions of what is accepted and showed the reader what is right: the freedom and equality of all people.
Some subtopics that Twain develops in relation to anti-slavery are religion and pretense. At some point, Huck realizes that the religious sentiment is against him freeing Jim, to which he responds with “All right, then, I’ll go to hell (Twain 508).” This proves the superficial nature of religion over real people’s life struggles. Furthermore, the reader learns that Huck is as loyal to Jim as the man is to him. The boy learned a lot about hell at his foster home to know that this is a place to avoid going to, and yet, he is ready if it means saving his friend’s life.
Huck’s genuine efforts to free Jim are contrasted with Tom Sawyer’s playfulness. To Tom, Jim’s route to escape is nothing more than a fun adventure. Moreover, at times, Sawyer makes the venture even harder than it was supposed to be by letting his imagination and creativity interfere. This exposition of two types of responses to the issue of slavery can be inferred to today’s world as well. Some people are like Huck Finn: they are truly compassionate with the struggles of underprivileged communities. They could use the following quote by him as their motto: “I do not wish any reward but to know I have done the right thing (Twain 600).” Others, however, feign interest in humanitarian problems and take action more for the thrill of it.
Mark Twain was a true trailblazer of his era by writing a bold and courageous novel about the problems of slavery. Through a single character, the writer managed to show how destructive slavery maybe for the human character. Twain demonstrated his compassion for the human condition by making Jim’s character multifaceted: he is uneducated but street-smart, and he is naive but fiercely loyal and caring.
By doing this, Twain expanded Jim’s personality beyond his identity as a friend and made him a real human being. Through Huck Finn, the writer demonstrated the schism between societal norms and humans’ natural rights. The boy was not civilized from birth, which made him able to connect with Jim despite the status of the latter. Jim’s liberation crowns the novel and shows what Twain deemed as the ideal outcome. The theme of anti-slavery is an important one because it teaches the reader self-reflection and critical thinking.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ABDO, 2010.