The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain in the late 1800s, is a celebrated novel while being also extremely controversial. In his work, he explores deep themes such as racism, slavery, and basic human morals. The novel is set in the early 1800s, when slavery was widely accepted and praised because of how normal and common it was. This novel stays true to that time period, for there is blatant racism expressed, which leading one to believe that the author and the book itself may even be racist.
However, since it was written after the abolition of slavery by an anti-slavery advocate, it also contains material that promotes equality for all people. Twain uses different characters to show the opposing views on slavery in a time prior to the Civil War. Pap, Huck’s curt father, is a racist who sees blacks as property. He is a white person who acts normal for this time period, and his dialogue in the novel expresses how many felt towards African-Americans.
This is shown when Pap says, “I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin.” ( ).
Twain successfully showed how deeply racism was ingrained in the minds of southern people through this character. It also provides some background for why Huck faces a moral dilemma when helping to free a slave. Huck, and other children like him, were raised with the mindset to hate those who were not white. Even though Huck was friends with Jim, he had trouble going against the ideals that he’d been raised on his whole life. Huck begins to wonder if he believes in what he has been told his whole life or if he has a different opinion. This struggle is evident when Huck lies for Jim and tells the white man that the only man on the raft is, “white.” (90).
On one hand, he wants to stay true to what those who raised him have said – that black people are inferior and don’t have rights. On the other hand, he wants to help Jim escape, since he is such a good friend to him. One can see the moral dilemma Huck faces, as he tries to decide if he should turn Jim in and please the widow who raised him, who owns Jim, or if he should save the man that has been kinder to him than his own father.
It is because of this that he starts to realize that Jim is more than property, he is a human that has rights. In the beginning of the book, since it is written from Huck’s perspective, Jim is portrayed as dense, illiterate, and superstitious because of the challenges Huck faces in trying to understand Jim. This clearly shows how whites thought of black people at that time, and it also shows how they justified slavery. African Americans were seen as property, on the same level as dogs or farm animals. They did not have rights in any way, but were considered to be disposable.
For Huck, seeing Jim as inferior to himself made it easier to treat him as a possession instead of a human. Although these ideals changed once he begin to get to know Jim better.Throughout the novel, one can see that Huck and Jim become good friends, defying what society said was right. By spending time with Jim, Huck began to realize that he was more than property – he was another person just like he is.
Huck did not by any means change his thinking completely, but he did realize that Jim should not be forced back into slavery, and helped him to escape. He saw Jim from a view that many white people never would, and Huck believed that it seemed wrong to force Jim back into a situation that he knew was horrible. This shows a different side of Huck – one that is beginning to question the ideals he has been taught his whole life.Over the course of the story, Jim appears to the readers as strong and respectable, in contrast to the dense man he was portrayed as at the beginning of the book. It shows the progression of thinking throughout the plot – Jim is no longer simply a slave, he has a personality and the readers know he is a good, caring person. As inferred through Huck’s attitude, Jim has earned respect from him because of his actions and kindness.
This situation would be condemned by the racist people of the time period, but Twain used the relationship between Huck and Jim to show the abolitionist point of view of the novel. Huck, though he wouldn’t admit it, plays not only the part of a racist southern boy, but also that of an abolitionist and friend to a black man. Racism and segregation were a major issue in the late 1800s when Huckleberry Finn was written.
Characters like Pap, Huck, and Jim, faced these issues head on in this story. It shows the progressions of a boy who was raised by extremely racist and intolerable people. He develops from an indoctrinated child and then into a young man who decides for himself that slaves are humans too. Mark Twain uses his book to show the different views of the age – that of Pap, the very racist drunkard, that of Jim, the kind and strong slave, and that of Huck, caught between sticking with what he’s been told is right and what he believes in.