A hero is defined as a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose. The character of Jim in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain certainly fits that description. He risked his life in order to free himself from slavery, and in doing so, helps Huck to realize that he has worth. Huck becomes aware of Jim's sense of love and humanity, his basic goodness, and his desire to help others. There are many illustrations of this phenomenon in Huckleberry Finn.
The reader first becomes aware of Jim's sense of love and humanity when Jim discovers Pap's corpse on the houseboat:
...But it didn't budge. So I hollered again, and then Jim says: "De man ain't asleep -- he's dead. You hold still-- I'll go en see. "He went, and bent down and looked, and says: "It's a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked, too. He's ben shot in de back. I reck'n he's ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan' look at his face -- it's too gashly."
This is an example of how Jim is a humane and loving person because he does not allow Huck to see his dead father's face once he sees and understands the position in wehich he is placed. Later, Huck wishes to speak to Jim about the dead man, but Jim will not allow it since he does not want to reveal the truth about Pap to Huck. This is a second and more direct approach that is used in the story in order to show this same point.
Jim is also basically a good person. Although he is ignorant, he knows that it is a good thing for him to show Huck that he has worth so that Huck can think of him as an equal. This is a tough idea for Huck to realize because at this point in time he still thinks of Jim in terms of being a slave, and not on equal footing with him. This is shown by Jim's statement of his own self worth.
"Yes; en I's rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I's wuth eight hund'd dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn' want no mo'."
This statement is one of the first that lead to the reversal of Huck's attitudes toward Jim while they navigate the river. Huck states that:
"People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum..."
Huck's statement shows that he cares significantly more for Jim than he had in the past. This statement also paves the way for the feeling that Huck has for "going to hell" for Jim because Huck cares for Jim so much. Huck also shows about how much he cares for Jim when he escapes from the Wilks' graveyard scene. Huck explained the matter in this way:
"Out with you, Jim, and set her loose! Glory be to goodness, we're shut of them!"
Jim lit out, and was a-coming for me with both arms spread, he was so full of joy; but when I glimpsed him in the lightning my heart shot up in my mouth
and I went overboard backwards; for I forgot he was old King Lear and a drownded A-rab all in one, and it most scared the livers and lights out of me. But Jim fished me out, and was going to hug me and bless me...
This is another example of how much Huck loves Jim because all that Huck could think about was returning to Jim to continue their journey. Huck's colorful description of the incident only seems to compound the validity of this statement.
The third charictaristic that Jim exemplifies is a desire to help others. In Huckleberry Finn , Jim wishes to free himself from slavery. In doing so he enlists the help of Huck Finn. As they travel down the river, Jim sees that Huck will need some help understanding why he should be set free. Jim's objective is realized when he is sold back into slavery by the two frauds, the King and the Duke. Once Jim is sold back into slavery, Huck is left alone and begins to feel lonely without the presence of Jim. Huck speaks of his being alone in this way:
I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times... I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he's got now...
"All right, then, I'll GO to hell"
At this climactic point in the story, Huck not only sees that he and Jim are on equal ground and that he will do anything, including freeing Jim from slavery, which he accomplishes with the assistance of Tom Sawyer.
The character of Jim in Huckleberry Finn is a hero because his sense of love and humanity, his basic goodness, and his desire to help others help Huckleberry Finn to realize why he should help to free Jim from slavery.
Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/jim-paper.php