Jim's true role in Huckleberry Finn has long been argued. Some critics believe that he acts as a father figure for Huck. Others believe various other things. However, Jim's real role in the novel is to provide Huck with an opportunity for moral growth because, through his friendship with Jim, Huck learns a great deal about humanity.
In the beginning of this Huckleberry Finn, Huck was an uncivilized and ignorant boy. When he moved in with the Widow Douglas, she "allowed she would [him]" but he did not want to stay with her because she was so "regular and decent... in all her ways" (2). He did not have what most people would consider morals. He was so against things moral and civilized that he could not even bear to live with someone as good as the Widow.
When Huck first befriended Jim, he was still in this ignorant and immoral state. He, like most others at this time, was a believer and supporter of the institution of slavery, but he did agree to help Jim escape because he himself would benefit from it. He still saw Jim as a slave though, and therefore as someone inferior to him. As his friendship with Jim deepened because of their time spent together on the raft, Huck's view of Jim began to change. This change first became apparent when Huck tricked Jim into believing that he only dreamed about them getting separated in the fog. When Jim learned that Huck tricked him, Huck felt awful about hurting Jim's feelings, and after that, he "didn't do [Jim] no more mean tricks, and [he] wouldn't done that one if [he'd] a knowed it would make [Jim] feel that way" (148). Huck was clearly beginning to truly care about Jim as a person.
However, the fact that Jim was a slave was still an issue for Huck. Before they realized they had passed Cairo in the fog, and they still were looking for it because it meant freedom for Jim, it truly dawned on Huck for the first time that he was helping a slave escape. He "couldn't...