Monday, May 16, 2016

Character Growth in Huckleberry Finn

Source: http://media1.shmoop.com/images/teachers_editions/huck-finn.jpg
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain almost defies categorization.  In a way, it’s a sort of sequel to his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, except it takes on a much darker, serious, adult tone in contrast to Tom’s antics.  Huck is essentially an orphan, and though starting at the end of Tom Sawyer and into the beginning of Huck Finn the Widow Douglas has sort of adopted him, Huck revolts against her attempts to civilize him and soon is on the run. 

Sounds like the making of more Sawyerian shenanigans, right?  Maybe Huck will be able to attend his funeral again, right? 

Wrong. 

Because soon enough Huck will find himself in more danger and faced with harder choices than Tom Sawyer ever was posed in his book.  And there are worse things to run away from than a well-meaning widow, as he soon learns when he meets up with Jim, a runaway slave.


Huck seems to have some respect for Jim, saying, “Well, he was right; he was most always right; he sure had an uncommon level head…” but this compliment is undermined to an extent by his immediately referring to Jim as something I would never write on my blog.  I think at this point Huck is almost unconsciously considering Jim as an equal because it is only practical to do so.  They are both on the run, and their chances of success are increased if they work together.  His condescending and derogatory language when talking about Jim seems to be more out of habit than malice.

By the end of Chapter 15 sees Huck feel genuine regret for playing a cruel prank on Jim: “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a ____; but I done it, and I warn’t every sorry for it afterward, neither.  I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I ‘a’ knowed it would make him feel that way. This passage seems especially poignant because he recognizes the inbred Southern idea that slaves are inferior beings, and he deliberately goes against all he’s been taught.

When the Duke and Dauphin join Huck and Jim, the two runaways are forced into trusting each other more in order to keep their identities a secret.  By Chapter 20 Huck seems attached to Jim, saying “…People was always coming out in skiffs and trying to take Jim away from me….”  In any other tone, the reader could surmise that Huck considered Jim his property, but here that is not the case.

In Chapter 23, Huck listens to Jim moaning with homesickness and missing his family.  Huck reflects: “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n.  It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.”  Again, here is an example of Huck’s central conflict between what he’s been taught and believed all his life and his personal experiences with Jim. 

At this point, Jim is going around in ropes so that they can travel with him as if they were returning him to his master, and going through a lot of humiliation without much complaint.  Huck doesn’t seem to notice the mortification of being tied up and forced to “wear the mask” of savagery, but still seems to be making some sort of mental transition.  

I don’t think the central point of Huckleberry Finn is Jim and his quest for freedom, but rather how Huck sees Jim and how this perception changes.  It’s not a novel concerned about the external problems of slavery, but about the internal cause of slavery: how white people like Huck think about black people.  Only when the internal mentality is changed is it possible to succeed with remedying external problems.

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