The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is absolutely relating a message to readers about the ills of slavery but this is a complex matter. On one hand, the only truly good and reliable character who is free of the hypocritical nature that other whit characters are plagued with is Jim who, according to the institution of slavery, is subhuman. Thus, one has to wonder about the presence of satire in Huck Finn. Furthermore, Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn after slavery was made illegal and his choice to set this story in a pre-civil war time when slaves were still held is significant.
What truly makes the thesis statement about race and slavery in Huck Finn complex is is that there are several traces of some degree of racism in the novel, including the use of the ‘N’ word. By using the word, the book portrays the atmosphere of the south and slavery at that time. David Bradley, a Mark Twain expert featured in “Born to Trouble: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, says that, “The ‘N’ was a word used during that time to call black people. It was a common word” (Born to Trouble).
Apart from this, when Aunt Sally hears about an explosion and she asks Huck if anybody was hurt, he responds by saying “No’m,” “Killed a slave”(Peter Salwen). These few lines of dialogue say all there is to say about how blacks were viewed at that time; that they are “nobody”, less than human, with lives that are of little or no value to anyone. The racist attitudes of the south are most evident in the character of Huck Salas 2 Finn himself and how he relates to the runaway slave, Jim. Huck is nothing but a product of his environment and upbringing.
Although he reflects the cruelty and injustice of the south towards blacks, he is totally unaware that this is the wrong attitude to take (Fiskin). At first when Huck is unsure how to deal with Jim, he displays attitudes that are a reflection of his times. He plays tricks on Jim and entraps him in a dialogue that makes the latter appear especially foolish, or perhaps, to make Jim painfully aware of his own inferiority. The trick the weighed most heavily on both Huck and Jim is when, after having disappeared from the raft, Huck pretends to have been there all along.
The worried Jim insists that he believed Huck had almost drowned, but Huck plays Jim for a fool, tricking him into believing that he had only been dreaming (Twain 186). Jim, in turn, is made to appear as the Negro stereotype of the times: a backward buffoon with his slave dialect and many superstitions (Gregory). It is only much later on that he takes on a more human face as we discover his admirable character, particularly his fierce loyalty to his friend Huck (Born to Trouble).
Huck also reflects the white South’s belief that blacks were vastly inferior. In the conversation about King Solomon and the Frenchmen in Chapter 14, Huck ends the conversation by saying to himself: “I see it warn’t any use wasting words – you can’t learn a n…… to argue. So I quit” (Twain 104). Seemingly frustrated with the turn of the conversation, Huck ends up being dismissive of the black man’s intellectual capacity, his ability to learn, see reason or think rationally.
Again, this points to the white South’s inherent belief that the black man is inferior. Salas 3 Early on this relationship, Huck is also prone to saying things that further show how deeply racist attitudes have been ingrained in him. After the trick he plays on Jim, he is reluctant to apologize to someone society dictates is far beneath him: “it was fifteen minutes before I could work myself to go and humble myself to a slave” (Twain 107). Jim must also accept the fact that as a black, he is inferior to whites in these times.
Friendship doesn’t negate this rule of society; even his good friend Huck is far superior to him. Even as far into the book as Chapter 31, Huck still holds himself accountable to the strict racist rules of his community, where empowering a black man is a “low-down thing”(Twain 219). However in this course of the tale, Huck’s attitude toward his black companion begins to shift. This is a struggle for him at first, and a reader can get a definite sense of Huck grappling with how society has always forced him to think.
For example, although he shows reluctance in apologizing to Jim for his trick, he really does feel like the trash Jim likens him to (Twain 107). Not only does he get over his reluctance and apologizes to Jim, but makes a firm pledge to himself not to “do him no more mean tricks; and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d knowed it would make him feel that way” (Twain 107). Another instance is when Huck encounters a group of white men looking for runaway slaves. He struggles momentarily about the morality of hiding Jim, still thinking of the latter as a stolen piece of property and not a person.
Huck then swings the other way and conceals Jim from the men with a clever ruse (Twain 117). In the end after a long and hard struggle, both Huck and Jim achieve a certain degree of freedom. Not just freedom form “sivilization” for Huck Salas 4 and slavery for Jim, but freedom from the rigid mindset of the racist South. Huck learns to look at Jim not merely as a Negro, a piece of property or someone inferior and worthless, but as a human being and as a friend.