A major argument among critics is whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is or is not a racist novel. Mark Twains recurrence of the "N" word, in addition to his, questionable inhumanity towards the Negro race, led many to believe that the book was developed upon racist roots. Throughout the book, Twain develops Jim, a slave character, into a kind compassionate human being, who is willing to sacrifice his freedom to help a friend in need. Twains use satire to criticize the inhumane treatment given to past African Americans. Because Twain creates the character of Jim, a slave, as a kind, compassionate, clear thinking individual, who is eventually freed at the end, it is evident that this book is not racist.
Because of the frequent us of the 'N' word, and the views of blacks and the inhumanity towards them, some could depict that this novel is racist. Wallace argues that because the "N" word literally means "member of any dark-skinned race of people and is offensive," many African Americans who read this book could take offense and therefore declare the novel racist (Wallace 17). Many Caucasians, ashamed of what their ancestors had done to African American in the slave times, feel that it is also their place to take offense for African Americans, declaring it a racist novel as well. Some critics believe that Twain creates Jim as a piece of
property that could be sold and bought. Smiley argues that when the two Mississippi River bandits, traveling with Jim, become short on cash, and "betray Jim by selling him for forty dollars," again African Americans are depicted as others" property (Smiley 63).
Twain believes that there is nothing wrong with human as other's property. Wallace, again, believes that Twain depicts African Americans as inhuman objects, not even worth grieving over. Again, African Americans are looked at as property (Smiley 63). Throughout the book, Mark Twain develops Jim, a slave, into a compassionate human being, who sacrifices his own freedom to help a friend. Jim expresses the most compassion towards his wife and kids, hoping to one day rejoin them. Along the Mississippi River, Jim would become "low and homesick" for he had been separated from his family and hoped to one day rejoice in their presence (Twain 267).
This shows the love that Jim expresses towards his long lost family. This is significant, for these emotions show Jim as a loving human being, not the soulless emotionless slave that he was commonly viewed as. We discover that Twain viewed the slaves as human beings, rather than property, proving that the novel is in fact not racist. In addition, Jim repeatedly surrendered his sleep so that Huck Finn, his new friend, could get more rest. On many occasions "Jim wouldn't call Huck when it was Huck's turn" to keep guard, giving Huck more rest, and yielding his own (Twain 266).
While night traveling on the river, someone had to always be on watch for steamboats and other boats, for they could capsize one's raft. Although Jim and Huck had agreed to split the
shifts evenly, Jim continued to do more in self-sacrifice for him, showing that he is generous and unselfish. Twain had built Jim's character into an unselfish and generous man that a racist novel would not have included. Jim sacrifices his freedom to help a friend in need. Upon realizing that Tom Sawyer, Jim's friend, was hurt and in need help, Jim willingly came out from hiding, "risking his freedom," to accompany a doctor in curing Tom (Twain 492).
Tom had been shot in the process of saving Jim and, therefore, Jim felt it was his duty to save Tom. This is the greatest act of kindness Jim good possibly have shown. He gave up his freedom, the thing he had worked for his whole life, in order to assist his friend. The reader sees that Jim is a good hearted man, not the selfish slave he should have been made into had this been a racist novel. Twain allows Jim to think clearer than the free men around him.
After Huck and Jim had become separated in the fog, Huck plays a joke on Jim. When they had passed the fog, Huck insisted that "Jim did dream it" although it had actually happened (Twain 145). Once Jim had figured out that Huck had been playing a joke on him, Jim became mad and ashamed of Huck. After Huck had seen how he had hurt Jim he never played another joke on him. Near the beginning of the book, Jim is sleeping, Tom removes Jim's hat and places it on a tree branch above him. "Afterwards Jim said that witches bewitched him and put him in a trance," elaborating the story a little more every time he told it (Twain 10). Mark Twain and his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are considered by today's standards to be racist by critics, but neither he or the book are.
Jim is very naive and superstitious. Some critics say that Twain is implying that all blacks have these qualities. When Jim turns to his magic hairball for answers about the future, we see that he does believe in some foolish things. But all the same, he is visited by both blacks and whites to use the hairball's powers. This type of naivete was abundant at the time and found among all races-the result of a lack of proper education. So the depiction of Jim is not negative in the sense that Jim is stupid , and in this aspect of the story clearly there is no racism intended. It is necessary to analyze the way white characters treat Jim throughout the book.
The book was written when blacks were the lowest in society and were ordinarily treated poorly. Mark Twain's writing on the facts of life in pre-Civil War times should not be looked upon as examples of racism, for that was the way society was back then. It is absurd to degrade an author by calling them a racist just because he chooses to put a controversial character into his story and describes black people in a incorrect way. Although the story's theme seems to be racist, the underlying story should be considered when making a statement. Mark Twain nor his book should ever be called racist, for he accurately depicted life in the South.
Critics consider the novel to be racist. They cite the common use of the 'N' word as the most obvious instance of the book's racism. This, however, is not a good example because this is how blacks were referred to then. To have used the words Negro or African-American would have taken away from the story's impact, and would make it sound ridiculous. If Twain wanted to write a historically accurate book then the inclusion of this word is totally necessary.
A closer reading also reveals Twain's serious satiric intent. But what is the book really about? It's about nothing less than striving for and attaining freedom. It's about a slave who breaks the law and risks his life to win his freedom and be reunited with his family, and a white boy who befriends him and helps him in escape.
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