Racism and Slavery in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn
Throughout Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, racism and slavery are two major thematic concepts pulsing through the novel. Through incidents, comments made by the characters, and statements by the narrator, Twain enables the readers to observe the attitudes of the people concerning discrimination and involuntary servitude before the Emancipation Proclamation. Not only does his use of language and comments help the reader better comprehend the social attitudes of the time period, it also enlightens the audience of Twain’s attitude towards slavery and racism. Twain is known for voicing his opinions and observations through characters, and in this novel it is no different. The audience is able to get a clear insight on Twain’s opinion that slavery is a hypocrisy. In Huckleberry Finn, the author is able to develop the major themes of racism and slavery through the plan to help Jim escape, his comparison of Pap and Jim, Huck’s internal conflict whether to hide Jim’s identity, and Pap’s argument about blacks enabling the audience to infer Twain opposed the institution of slavery in such societies whom viewed themselves as advanced.
At the beginning of the novel the readers find out Huck is living with Widow Douglas and Miss Watson because Huck’s father is a poor parental figure. Then Pap unfortunately decides to make a surprise visit to see his son. Huck sees and describes Pap’s appearance, “There warn’t no color in his face, where his faced showed; it was white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl…” (14). Although Pap was a white male, Twain does not give him favorable characteristics. This was odd because most novels in this time period gave white people likeable characteristics. Huck describes him as having a bad aura, explaining Pap only came to visit his son to get his money. Pap says, “That’s why I come. You git me that money tomorrow -I want it” (15). This shows the readers he does not care for his son.Twain also uses the father-son relationship to show the reader that he disagrees with rights of one person over another. Although Pap beats Huck and refuses to allow him to learn to read, the judge still gives Pap custody of Huck. Huck is his father’s property. Twain hints this is just as awful as slavery because he treats Huck terribly. Through the unfavorable characteristics of the relationship, Twain demonstrates how he believes people should not be considered property. On the other hand, Jim is a loving and caring father and husband and would do anything to be altogether once again. He does not care about materialistic values they have to offer; he just wants to be surrounded by their love. Due to the racism in this time period, Jim’s family was split up because they were considered property. By giving favorable traits to Jim and unlikeable traits to Pap the audience can clearly see Twain thinks this is extremely wrong. Although Pap is white it does not necessarily mean him and his son should be together. Twain shows what an ideal father should be like through Jim because he cares for their well-being, unlike Pap. He does this to enlighten the audience that their preconceived notions are wrong and black people deserve to be as equal as white people. Jim would be a great father and is split up from his family, while Pap treats his son like a slave and gets to keep him. He does not believe someone should have the rights over another person no matter what their color is. Next, Twain lets his opinion shine through the characters when Pap is drunk and is talking about the government. Pap states his opinion on an African-American by saying, “…And he had a gold watch and chain, and a silverheaded cane…They said he was a p’fessor in a college and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could vote…” (20). Twain has already described Pap as being awful looking externally, and now the...
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