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Twain’s Use of Jim as an Argument Against Slavery in 'Huckleberry Finn'

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Book analysis

Even though Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may seem like a lighthearted and fun novel about the wild adventures of a boy and his new friend and fellow runaway Jim, Mark Twain wrote the book to inform and open the eyes of the American society to its flaws as well as entertain us with funny and crazy events in the book. Twain, a dedicated abolitionist, used the book as a platform for his argument against the racism and the hypocrisy of the south during the 1800s.

Mark Twain uses many instruments to illustrate his argument against racism, the hypocrisy of the American people, and the flaws of American society at the time such as the scene of Pap’s drunk lecture, when Huck meets Mrs. Phelps, and Jim’s role in Huck’s life and characteristics throughout the adventure. Jim’s depiction in the book is controversial with some believing that Twain was being racist by depicting Jim as a gullible and unintelligent person who thinks he is worth an amount of money and is a piece of property to be owned. But in fact, Twain used Jim and thoughtfully planned out his role in the novel to support his case against the morally wrong discrimination against blacks prevalent in the American society of the 1800s.

Twain achieves his intention of putting Jim in the book by illustrating Jim so that he is a kind, caring and loyal human that is morally the best character in the book which contradicts southern ideas of the time that African Americans weren’t people but property and the racial stereotypes, such as African Americans were inhuman, lacking any intelligence, and devoid of compassion and feelings, and shows the hypocrisy of the white American population.

Even though Mark Twain wrote the book in the 1880s, which was more than a decade after the civil war and emancipation of all slaves, racism was still prevalent until the years following the civil rights movement. As shown in the book with Huck’s southern morals, most Americans believed that blacks were inferior for many reasons, such as they were unintelligent and lacked emotions. Mark Twain uses Jim’s emotions and affection for his family to prove these stereotypes false and to attack the main reasons that Whites believed that they were superior and could be racist towards African Americans. When Jim and Huck are separated during the fog scene, Jim expresses sadness when him and Huck are separated and relief when Huck returns to him. “When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin’ for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’” (Twain 95).

In the quote, Jim recounts how he worked tirelessly to try to find Huck and how he was heartbroken when he and Huck were split apart. In the quote, Twain is trying to show that Jim, along with other African Americans, can have emotions and feelings for others. This evidence of Jim’s emotions contradicts the racial stereotype that African Americans did not have feelings or emotions and supports Twain’s argument against racism. Another example of when we see Jim’s emotions, is when he talks about his separated family. Before the book took place, Jim was separated from his wife and daughter, which takes an emotional toll on him.

Later on in the story, we see how important his family was to him and how emotionally distraught he is being separated from them. While the King and the Duke were on the raft, Huck and Jim would take turns watching out and keeping the raft on course. After choosing to take the first shift and thinking Huck is asleep, Jim begins to cry and mourn for the family that he misses dearly. “When I waked up, just as daybreak, he was setting there with his head down betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself. I didn’t take notice, nor let on. I knowed what it was about. He was thinking about his wife and children, away up yonder… I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks do for theirn. It don’t seem natural but I reckon it’s so” (Twain 170).

This quote is vital to Twain’s argument because it disproves the common idea of the time that blacks were incapable of caring for others and loving their families. In the quote, the reader can fully understand the racism of American society at the time, when Huck said he didn’t think that blacks were capable of loving and caring for their families.

Twain uses Huck’s line and Jim’s feelings for his family to show how African Americans did not differ from whites and that the racist ideas and morals that Huck and millions of others had grown up with were blatantly wrong. Before the King and the Duke scene, Huck and Jim are rafting up the river and are approaching the Northern and free states, when Jim tells Huck how grateful he is for him and all his efforts towards helping Jim become free. In the scene, Jim declares,” Pooty soon I’ll be a-sout’n for joy, en I’ll say, it’s all on accounts o’Huck; I’s a freeman, en I couldn’t ever ben free ef it hadn’t Ben for Huck; Huck done it.

Jim won’t ever forgit you, Huck; you’s de bes’ fren Jim’s ever had; en you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now” (Twain 111). Besides reiterating the fact that even though Jim is an African American he can still have relationships and emotions, Twain inserts this line to say that Jim and Huck are equals in the world. In the line, Twain is attacking the racism at the time of the book, by saying that Huck and Jim are equals and that nothing hinders the two from having a relationship.

Twain’s second angle of his attack on the racism is how hypocritical the ideas of the racist society were. At the time of the book’s writing, many Caucasian Americans believed that they were better than African Americans in every sense, but Twain challenges that theory by presenting the reader with morally evil white characters and morally good Jim. Throughout the book, Jim is constantly loyal, compassionate, and selfless, while most of the other Caucasian characters are selfish, backstabbing, and evil.

The good of Jim and evil of Pap and other white characters show that characteristics of people aren’t divided between race and that the idea that Caucasians are always superior especially morally is false. In the book, we see a deep contrast between Jim and Pap. While Jim symbolizes the good, Pap symbolizes evil, even being associated with the devil.

One of the main differences between the two is that Jim is compassionate towards Huck and unselfish, while Pap neglects and abuses Huck and is self-centered. After Huck and Jim find the floating house with Pap lying dead inside of it, Jim is caring for Huck and decides to not let him see the face of dead pap, as to protect him from the emotions of a family member’s death. Without knowing what Jim was doing Huck recounts the story as, ” Come in, Huck but down’ look at his face — it’s too gashly” (Twain 62).

This simple act of Kindness from Jim contrasts him greatly from Pap and other whites of the story such as the king and the duke. It shows that Jim actually cares about others besides himself like Huck, when he tries to protect Huck from the death of his father. On the other hand, Pap is selfish and uncaring which is shown when he sees Huck for the first time in a while, but is more worried about his money than him. “Looky here — mind how you talk to me; I’m a-standing about all I can stand now — so don’t gimme no sass. I’ve been in town two days, and I hain’t heard nothing but about you bein’ rich. I heard about it away down the river, too. That’s why I come. You git me that money tomorrow — I want it” (Twain 32).

Twain uses the line to prove that even though Pap was white, he was selfish and uncaring. After not seeing Huck for a long period of time, he visits him, but not to see his son, to get the money that is “rightfully” his. Twain creates a contrast, as shown in the two quotes, between Jim and Pap to prove his idea that whites are not always morally better than African Americans. Jim is also loyal to Huck and others, which is shown multiple times when he didn’t just float away on the boat, even though there were many possible times of escape and the desire for freedom must have been strong. One of the biggest examples of loyalty is when Jim sacrifices his freedom to stay with Tom and assist the doctor while he healed Tom. Huck retells the story as, ” No, sah — I doan’ budge a step out’n dis place, ‘dout a doctor; not ef it’s forty year! I knowed he was white inside” (Twain 279).

In the quotation, Jim states that he will stay with Tom until the doctor comes, no matter how long this may be. This is an important line because it shows that Jim is so loyal that he would sacrifice the freedom that he had been waiting for years for just to make sure Tom is ok until the doctor arrives. Just as important as the act of Jim is Huck’s response because it shows the racist idea that only whites can be loyal, caring, and compassionate. Even though Huck believes so when he says that he knew Jim was white in the inside, most of the whites of the story had not been loyal with Miss Watson going back on her promise to never sell Jim and the King and the Duke breaking the trust of Huck and Jim by selling Jim back into slavery.

Twain inserts these instances into the novel to show that contrary to the common belief of the time, characteristics of a person are not determined by their race. It also shows that even though African Americans were believed to be sneaky and disloyal by the hypocritical white Americans, the fact is that all races can be disloyal, it matters based on your personality and not race.

Although some may believe that Twain’s depiction of Jim in Adventures of Huck Finn as gullible and unintelligent is racist, Twain cleverly planned out Jim’s characteristics and role in the book, so that he would support Twain’s argument against the discrimination of blacks. Twain believed that African Americans were equal to whites, that the racist views of blacks were hypocritical, and that the stereotypes and racist beliefs that the Ameican society had of African Americans were morally wrong.

Twain uses Jim’s compassion, kindness, loyalty, and unselfishness and other white characters’ selfishness; disloyalty; and lack of compassion to prove that the beliefs ingrained in the Ameican society for a 100 years were flat out wrong and we’re hypocritical as most of the whites could fit their description for all blacks. Jim’s emotions and relationships are important because they show that contrary to popular belief, African Americans were people that had real emotions and we’re capable of having relationships.

Works Cited

  1. Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: an Authoritative Text Contexts and Sources Criticism. Edited by Thomas Cooley, 3rd ed., Norton & Company, 1999.

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Twain’s Use Of Jim As An Argument Against Slavery In ‘Huckleberry Finn’. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from
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