Mark Twain introduced his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884, two decades after the official abolishment of slavery. Exploring the theme of race and human identity, the author chooses two main characters, the representatives of different ethnic groups, and describes various situations. Huckleberry Finn or Huck is a “thirteen or fourteen or along there” boy who feels loneliness and has a desire to change something in his life (Twain 3, 101). Jim is a big nigger who keeps a “five-center piece around his neck with a string,” the devil’s charm to cure people (Twain 7). Although Twain was known for his protests against racial inequality and prejudiced relationships, his novel contains a number of offensive phrases and words that underline the existing stereotypes. Therefore, his true attitudes toward slavery and racism remain inconsistent and hard-to-explain. This essay aims at discussing several examples from the novel that reveal characters and their positions in the racial context. Slavery and racism are complex issues in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that affect the main characters and underline the limitations in human rights and freedoms, religious beliefs, unjustified prejudice, and even the voting system.
Twain successfully uses social prejudice as an outcome of racism and an excuse for human disabilities and failures in their decision-making and problem-solving. There are many examples of how Huck describes Jim and relies on stereotypical thoughts. When the boys observe their findings from the robbers’ boat, Huck gives some explanations to Jim. It turns out to be a surprise for Huck that Jim is smarter than he thinks and that “he was almost always right; he had an uncommon level of head for a nigger” (Twain 79). Society considers African Americans being stupid. In this quote, the shock of the boy is evident, proving narrow-mindedness. Another example of unfair judgments is the moment when Huck apologizes to Jim for his lie. Huck underlines that “it was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I have done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither” (Twain 89). It is not ordinary for a white boy to admit his mistakes in regard to a black one, and Huck changes and never repeats his tricks.
Another impact of slavery and racism power can be viewed through the religious prism and the contradictions that exist between true religion, meaning Christianity, and superstitions inherent to black people. According to Miss Watson, prayer is an obligatory step in any white person’s life because “whatever I asked for I would get it” (Twain 11). Compared to African Americans, white people use religion as a solid background for their success. In the black context, religion is a means to understand the world better, which specifies racial differences and the impact of slavery. A black boy interprets young birds “flying a yard or two at a time and lighting” as a sign of rain (Twain 47). The author uses religion as a means to compare black and white societies and show the effectiveness of niggers’ superstitious beliefs compared to weak but formal white standards. White Christianity results in misunderstanding, cruelty, and inequality, while black superstition liberates. Instead of being dependent on supreme powers like Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, Jim helps Huck enjoy his faith and find the necessary support and motivation, proving that black superstition is not bad.
In addition to religious concerns, Twain’s protest against slavery is perfectly seen in the criticism of the government system and the lack of equal voting rights for all the citizens in the United States. In one of the conversations, “a free nigger there from Ohio – a matter” is mentioned (Twain 28). He has fine clothes, a gold watch, and the right to vote “when he was at home” (Twain 29). The author wants to indicate that despite slavery abolition, black people do not have the rights that are equal to those of white citizens. Huck’s Pap represents all other white people who reject the idea of equal voting and their readiness not to participate in the next elections under such conditions. Even if the government tries to promote equality and freedom in American society, many people do not want to accept such terms and get the same opportunities that black people have. Racism never disappears in society because citizens do have no desire to deal with the end of slavery. Twain opposes this statement, which results in Pap’s death and Jim’s freedom.
Finally, the reader of the novel may infer Twain’s negative attitude toward racism and slavery due to its serious impact on human freedoms and the price that has to be paid for changes. In their adventure, Huck and Jim pursue the same intention – to be free. In Huck’s case, he wants to avoid all those social obligations and rules he does not like as people “get down on a thing they don’t’ know nothing about it” (Twain 2). Jim, as a slave, considers freedom literally because he wants to escape from Miss Watson, who “pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough” (Twain 45). Race and slavery become the mediators in the boys’ lives, and Twain chooses Jim to achieve his goal and be gifted with freedom, while Huck needs to be “civilized,” and he “can’t stand it” (Twain 295). The decision to make Jim free proves his attitude toward slavery and the necessity to break the norms and help racial minorities. It may not be easy to obtain freedom in all its forms, but humiliation based on their skin color has to be stopped.
To sum up, one should admit that Twain’s attitude toward slavery and racism undergoes certain changes and improvements throughout the novel. In the beginning, Huck is represented as a young white boy who lives according to prejudiced opinions and makes conclusions, relying on unfair judgments and social freedoms. After he meets Jim, he gets a chance to see this life through another prism, the one of a black boy. Comparing their religious beliefs, political rights, and existing freedoms, the boys understand it is better to believe in black superstition than to follow formal white standards. Twain does not give a clear answer either he supports slavery abolition or not. Still, the end of the novel, when a black boy gets his freedom, and a white boy has to continue his adventure, may serve as good evidence. Racism and slavery are the two severe diseases in American society, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn helps comprehend this pathology better.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.