February 28, 2010
Exposing the Racist, Opposing Racism
Since its original publication in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has proven to be one of the most controversial when it comes to the reoccurring issue of race in American society. Many argue that Mark Twain held the racist ideals that most people had in the 1830’s, while others know that Twain was a social satirist, mocking the ignorance of society. In order to be considered a racist novel Huck Finn would have to advocate racism. The evidence thus far has lead me to believe that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn promotes a strong set of antiracist ethical values as the main character, Jim, a runaway slave is displayed as the best, most honorable character, while other white characters are depicted as ignorant and self centered, lacking ethical reasoning. The immorality of racism is periodically satirized throughout the novel. The unethical thinking of the time period of slavery is an issue that Twain recognizes, mocks, and clearly presents his opposition toward. One of the main concerns consistently brought up by those who argue that Twain is racist is that simply based on the dialogue and use of the word “nigger,” Twain is being insensitive toward blacks. He must be a racist if he is using such a derogatory term. However, they fail to realize that he is telling a story how it would have happened and he avoids beating around the bush in order to lay out the reality of the time period when people engaged in such communication. Justin Kaplan uses powerful words on the matter when he questions people who have “allowed him or herself even the barest minimum of intelligent response to its underlying spirit” (378) and still “accuse it of being racist because some of its characters use offensive racial epithets” (378). On the surface, this can easily be detected as racism but when taking a look at particular circumstances of ignorance, Huck’s internal battling experiences, and satiric element, the intent is clear. Jim, one of the main characters of the novel, is undoubtedly the most moral character in the novel. Julius Lester argues in his piece “Morality in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that Jim is a “childlike character” and is not taken seriously since he “runs away and does not immediately seek his freedom” (365). However, Jim has been brought up in a time where he himself feels some sort of inferiority complex to whites in society. Lester is partially correct in his philosophy that Jim is childlike, but wrong in the idea that this is a negative aspect of his character. His “childlike” quality characterizes his humility, nobility, and kindness. He is much more one of the wiser characters in the novel as he recognizes the mistakes he has made and even expresses his guilt to Huck. He tells Huck a story about a time when he asked his four year old daughter to “’Shut de do’ “(154) and she just stood there smiling at him, deaf to the fact that her father was instructing her to shut the door. Since he did not realize she had scarlet fever and had grown deaf, he beat her for her disobedience. When he realized that she was deaf, he “bust out cryin’ en grab her up in [his] arms, and say “’Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God almighty fogive po ol Jim’”(155) After beating his daughter, he realizes that what he did is wrong. He learns from his mistakes and asked for forgiveness from God who he believes is all powerful with the power to forgive man of his sins. In this scene Jim demonstrates wisdom. He takes what he knows, puts it to use, and repents. While he may not be the most educated character in the novel, he seems to have the most caring attitude based on the principles he has learned. According to Bennett Kravitz, Jim is “portrayed as noble, loyal, and the ultimate friend and family man.” On the contrary to his ‘’childlike” trait that Lester believes Jim has, he is actually a father and acts much more like a...
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