.. is casual dialogue ironically, as a was to underscore the chilling truth about the old south, that it was a society where perfectly “nice” people didn’t consider the death of a black person worth their notice. Because of his upbringing, the boy starts out that slavery is part of the natural order; but as the story unfolds he wrestles with his conscience, and when the crucial moment comes he decides he will be damned to the flames of hell rather than betray his black friend. And Jim, as Twain presents him, is hardly a caricature. Rather, he is the moral center of the book, a man of courage and nobility, who risks his freedom risks his life — for the sake of his friend Huck. (Swalden 2) Booker T. Washington noted how Twain “succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for ‘Jim,” and pointed out that Twain, in creating Jim’s character, had “exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the Negro people.” The great black novelist Ralph Ellison noted how Twain allows Jim’s “dignity and human capacity” to emerge in the novel.
He stated: Huckleberry Finn knew, as did Mark Twain, that Jim was not only a slave but a human being, a symbol of humanity . . . and in freeing Jim, Huck makes a bid to free himself of the conventionalized evil taken for civilization by the town. And on those occasions when Twain does compare blacks and whites, the comparison is not flattering to the whites.
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Things like “One of my theories is that the hearts of men are about alike, all over the world, whatever their skin-complexions may be “. Another time he stated “Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare” . He also said “There are many humorous things in the world; among them is the white man’s notion that he is less savage than all the other savages”. These statements were noted in an essay by Peter Swalden who in summation states “Mark Twain a “racist”! Isn’t it about time we put this ridiculous notion to rest” (1). Because he is a black man fleeing slavery, Jim faces many struggles. He is constantly reminded of the dangers of running and is threatened by his capture.
He is also forced to accept the fact that his race makes him inferior to a white, and even a friend like Huck is still of higher status. Huck and Jim overcome the race barrier, only after Huck overcomes the inner struggle of whether to save Jim or not. Huck’s idea of racism is based on his upbringing, but he himself questions the validity of these statements of black inferiority (Ritter 1). Throughout the novel societies voice is heard through Huck. The racist and hateful contempt which existed at the time is present, but it is essential for the reader to see how Twain opposes these ideas throughout the novel.
Twains brings out the ugliness of society and causes the reader to challenge the original description of Jim. In a subtle matter, he creates a challenge to slavery (Wallace 12). After a careful examination of the book, one can realize that Twain is attempting to show us the vast problems that society has. One of those problems is slavery, so he gives the reader an idea of the runaway slaves position. Regardless of whether his interpretation of the slaves position is correct or not, it is not an attempt to degrade blacks, but rather an effort to show the reader that in Twains opinion, slavery is wrong.
Twains novel was not intended to be a book about slavery, it was intended to be a book which showed how wrong society was. Twain not only shows the reader that there are things which need to be changed, but also points out quite a few things which need modification. Mark Twain put a plea for humanity, for the end of castes, and of its cruelties in all of his stories (Allen 260). Mark Twain’s main purposes in producing this work seems clear, he wishes to bring to attention some of man’s often hidden shortcomings. At the time the story was written, nobody considered race to be a major factor in the novel and Twain himself was more than likely one of the least-racist United States citizens alive during his time.
Many critics have also realized that this novel is not racist in nature. One of the most prominent critics said, “Its satirical mode forces us to recognize the inconsistencies in our moral consciousness” (Nichols 210). Nichols argument is one of the strongest in favor of Huckleberry Finn. This argument illustrates his point that the main theme of this novel is to show its reader that times have been much worse and that we did not always enjoy the freedoms we take for granted today. This is very true. For example, Pap, Hucks father, is a blatant racist and displays it often. A main example is when he rants and raves because they allowed a black man to vote.
He bellows, “But when they told me that there was a state in this country where theyd let that nigger vote, I drawed out”. (Twain 69). By reading this passage, the reader can get a sense of what is was like back in the early nineteenth century before blacks were freed showing the differences between our times and times one hundred years ago. From this statement, the reader can learn and be thankful that man has stopped such practices and evolved to a more tolerant society. Another example that supports Nicholls statement is shown when Sherburn killed Boggs in cold blood.
A local lynch mob comes to hang Sherburn and a near-riot situation happens. An event like this shows the reader how man has changed and bettered himself from his ancestors. Today, we give accused killers rights, “due process of law”, and proceed in a more civilized manner (Marx 22). These differences between now and over one hundred years ago show the reader how the human race has advanced. If this novel can teach its reader about the evils of the past, then, perhaps, such evils will not happen again (Smiley 1).
In conclusion, educated readers and critics alike have realized that Mark Twain meant no disrespect to black people in his novel Huckleberry Finn. It can even be said that this book was anti slavery and did more disrespect to whites than blacks. Bibliography Allen, Micheal. Classic Literary Criticisms. New York: Oxford University Press.
1981 Baldanza, Frank. Mark Twain. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1961. Conn, Peter. Literature in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Fishkin, Shelley F., Was Huck Black? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p.3.
Marx, Leo, “Huck at 100,” The Nation, Aug. 31, 1985. Nichols, Timothy. Classic Criticism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
1976 Ritter, Frank. “Polically Correct”. Op ed page, Tennessean Times. September 18th 1996. Shepherd, Stephen (Oak Leaf Staff Writer) “Was Mark Twain Racist?”.
New York: Oxford university Press. 1983 Smiley, Jane, “Say It Ain’t So, Huck,” Harper’s, January 1996. Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn The Norton Anthology of American Literature . 2 vols. Ed. Nina Baym, et al.
4th. ed. New York: Norton, 1994. 29-214. Wallace John H, The Case Against Huck Finn.