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The Injustice of Slavery in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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Words: 1145 |

Pages: 2.5|

6 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 1145|Pages: 2.5|6 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

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Table of contents

  1. I. Introduction
  2. II. Contextual Background
  3. III. Tom Sawyer's Ludicrous Demands
  4. IV. Tom's Disregard for Jim's Humanity
  5. V. Reader Response and Twain's Commentary
  6. VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" offers a scathing critique of societal norms and prejudices prevalent in pre-Civil War America. Within this narrative, the chapter "Here a Captive Heart Busted" emerges as a pivotal moment, shedding light on the character of Tom Sawyer and his interactions with Jim, a slave seeking freedom. This essay delves into the intricate dynamics of Tom's actions, which transcend mere childhood antics and delve into moral ambiguity, all while underscoring Twain's profound commentary on the dehumanization of slaves and challenging readers to reassess their perceptions of race and humanity.

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II. Contextual Background

To fully appreciate the significance of Tom's actions, it is imperative to understand the societal backdrop against which they unfold. The antebellum South was characterized by the pervasive institution of slavery, with prevailing beliefs deeming African Americans as inferior and unworthy of basic human rights. Jim, the novel's central enslaved character, serves as a poignant symbol of the dehumanizing effects of slavery, yet he defies these stereotypes through his yearning for freedom and his inherent humanity.

Additionally, the evolution of Huck's relationship with Jim serves as a lens through which readers witness a gradual recognition of Jim's humanity. Initially influenced by societal prejudices, Huck's perspective undergoes a profound transformation as he forms a deep bond with Jim during their journey down the Mississippi River. This evolution underscores Twain's overarching theme of empathy and moral growth in the face of ingrained societal biases.

III. Tom Sawyer's Ludicrous Demands

Tom Sawyer's imposition of ten absurd tasks on Jim epitomizes his cavalier attitude towards the plight of enslaved individuals. Framed within the context of an adventurous prisoner role-play, these tasks serve as a stark contrast to Jim's earnest desire for freedom. From demanding intricate inscriptions to orchestrating the taming of a rattlesnake, Tom's ideas border on the absurd, highlighting his detachment from the harsh realities of slavery.

One particularly absurd demand involves the carving of inscriptions on rock walls, a detail Tom insists upon despite its incongruity with a traditional prison setting. Additionally, the futile attempt to transport a heavy grindstone underscores the impracticality of Tom's schemes, leaving Jim to bear the physical burden. These instances not only highlight Tom's disregard for Jim's well-being but also serve as a commentary on the trivialization of the struggles faced by enslaved individuals.

Twain describes the tasks as "the work and bother of raising the mullen, and jew's-harping the rats, and petting and flattering up the snakes and spiders and things, on top of all the other work he had to do on pens, and inscriptions, and journals, and things, which made it more trouble and responsibility to be a prisoner than anything [Jim] ever undertook" (254).

IV. Tom's Disregard for Jim's Humanity

Throughout the chapter, Tom consistently undermines Jim's agency and dignity, treating him as a mere pawn in his elaborate game. Jim's genuine fear and frustration are met with indifference by Tom, who fails to empathize with the gravity of Jim's situation. Instead, Tom views Jim's quest for freedom through a lens of frivolity, unable or unwilling to comprehend the magnitude of Jim's plight.

This disregard for Jim's humanity is epitomized in Tom's insistence that Jim tame a rattlesnake to serve as a pet. Despite Jim's palpable terror, Tom persists, prioritizing the novelty of the endeavor over Jim's well-being. The stark contrast between Jim's genuine fear and Tom's callous indifference highlights the dehumanizing effects of slavery and underscores Twain's scathing critique of societal attitudes towards race and humanity.

Tom's attitude towards Jim is evident when he insists, "Jim, don't act so foolish. A prisoner's got to have some kind of a dumb pet [?] there's more glory to be gained in your being the first to ever try it than any other way you could ever think of to save your life" (251).

V. Reader Response and Twain's Commentary

As readers bear witness to Jim's struggles under Tom's whimsical tyranny, a sense of frustration and indignation arises. Tom's antics serve as a catalyst for introspection, prompting readers to question the inherent injustices of slavery and confront their own biases. Twain deliberately crafts these interactions to provoke thought and challenge conventional notions of race and humanity.

Moreover, the stark contrast between Tom and Huck's attitudes towards Jim illuminates Twain's broader commentary on empathy and moral growth. While Huck gradually comes to recognize Jim's humanity, Tom remains steadfast in his disregard, serving as a foil to Huck's evolving morality. Through this juxtaposition, Twain underscores the transformative power of empathy and the inherent dignity of all individuals, regardless of race or social status.

Twain further demonstrates the absurdity of Tom's demands when Jim complains about the tasks, stating, "So much fault with [having an onion sent to him in his coffee], and with the work and bother of raising the mulllen, and jew's harping the rats, and petting and flattering up the snakes and spiders and things, on top of al the other work he had to do on pens, and inscriptions, and journals, and things, which made it more trouble and worry and responsibility to be a prisoner than anything he ever undertook, that Tom most lost all patience with him" (254).

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VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, Tom Sawyer's actions in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" serve as a poignant critique of societal attitudes towards race and humanity. Through his ludicrous demands and disregard for Jim's agency, Tom epitomizes the dehumanizing effects of slavery and challenges readers to confront their own prejudices. Twain's narrative not only highlights the injustices of slavery but also underscores the importance of empathy and moral growth in fostering a more just and equitable society. By engaging with Tom's character and his interactions with Jim, readers are encouraged to reevaluate their perceptions of race and humanity, ultimately striving towards a more compassionate and inclusive society.

References:

  1. Twain, M. (1885). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Charles L. Webster and Company.
  2. Fishkin, S. (2012). Twain’s Huck Finn: A biography. Princeton University Press.
  3. Jiménez-Castaño, G. (2018). The Role of Humor in Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. Arcadia: International Journal of Literary Studies, 53-65.
  4. Smith, S. (2001). Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. In Bloom, H. (Ed.), Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (pp. 89-98). Chelsea House Publishers.
  5. Quirk, T. (1990). Coming to Grips with Huckleberry Finn: Essays on a Book, a Boy, and a Man. University of Missouri Press.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

The Injustice of Slavery in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (2018, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/tom-sawyer-goes-too-far/
“The Injustice of Slavery in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/tom-sawyer-goes-too-far/
The Injustice of Slavery in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/tom-sawyer-goes-too-far/> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
The Injustice of Slavery in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Jun 09 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/tom-sawyer-goes-too-far/
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