The first encounter between Huck Finn and Jim is at the beginning of the book, when Huck's friend, Tom Sawyer, tries to fool Jim, Miss Watson's slave. Huck and Jim still don't know each other, but Huck isn't biased against the old slave. It's an important point because, as racism was a widely held mentality in the South, we can learn that that young boy was more open-minded than most people there. Later, they find themselves in the same situation. As they were escaping from the civilized world, they take refuge in the Jackson's Island, on the Mississippi river. Huck is running away from a bad father and Jim has leaved Miss Watson because he didn't want to be sold to New Orleans.
Soon after joining Jim on the island, Huck begins to realize that Jim has more talents and intelligence than Huck has been aware of. Jim knows "all kinds of signs" about the future, people's personalities, and weather forecasting. Huck finds this kind of information necessary as he and Jim drift down the Mississippi on a raft. As important, Huck feels a comfort with Jim that he has not felt with the other major characters in the novel. With Jim, Huck can enjoy the best aspects of his earlier influences. Jim's meaning to Huck changes as they proceed through their adventure. He starts out as an extra person just to take on the journey, but they transform into a friend. "It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger."(chap. XV) Huck tries to squeal on Jim but can't because he remembers that Jim called him "de bes' fren' I ever had;...de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to ole Jim."(chap. XVI) Huck realizes that he can not turn Jim in since they both act as runaway outcasts on the river. The support they have for each other sprouts friendship. As does the Widow, Jim allows Huck security, but Jim is not as confining as is the Widow. Like Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent but his intelligence is not as intimidating or as imaginary as is Tom's. As does Pap, Jim allows Huck freedom, but he does it in a loving, rather than an uncaring, fashion. Thus, early, in their relationship on Jackson's Island, Huck says to Jim, "This is nice. I wouldn't want to be nowhere else but here." This feeling is in marked contrast with Huck's feelings concerning other people in the early part of the novel where he always is uncomfortable and wishes to leave them.
The lack of comfort is also shared by Jim. As a slave, he truly feels like an outcast. Considering the context of the United States at that period, during the slavery conflict, we easily understand the situation of Jim. And one of the main ideas of this Mark Twain's masterpiece deals with a multiracial couple's story. The relationship between black and white was hardly accepted in the 1830's. Such an adventure, two male characters, with opposite colour of skin, striking up a friendship, was considered as a provocation by the society. The author knows that very well and will try, through his two heroes, to denounce the drifting of the Nation. Irony is his main weapon against that obscurantism. He uses it as often as possible. For instance, on chapter XIV, Huck tries to explain to Jim why a Frenchman is a man, even if he speaks differently. The ironical feature comes from the fact that this black slave doesn't understand the equality of all people, whereas himself isn't considered equal by the white. Besides, another ironical aspect is that we think first, in that chapter, that the white boy will civilize the black man whereas we'll discover further that it is the contrary.
First person brings the reader a more innocent side of the story, so the reader feels more compassion for the small boy. The symbolic image falls into play between Huck and Jim, "...en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed..."(chap. XV), this made Huck open his eyes for the first time in his life. Jim for the first time shows feelings for Huck and lets him know you don't treat people who care for you like "trash". This makes Huck aware that Jim means more to him than just someone's slave, he now considers him a true friend. Next, Huck finally sees Jim's loyalty toward him, "...so Jim he said he would stand the first half of it for me..."(chap. XX), keeping a special watch not waking him on his turn, "...I went to sleep, and Jim didn't call me when it was my turn..."(chap. XXIII). Even the little things like not waking Huck, show more than just an undying friendship. The symbolism of a grown man and a child had more effect instead of having two grown men, because a child needs a father figure. Jim fit the description and perfectly provided that for him.
The mutual affection between Huck and Jim will even lead them to sorts of sacrifices. When Huck discovers that Jim has been captured, Huck must decide whether to turn in Jim and tell Miss Watson, or accept going to hell. He finally chooses "hell" when he says, "I took it [letter to Miss Watson] up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute...and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell,' and tore it up."(chap. XXXI) Huck's sacrifice for his friend Jim, a man he has come to view as a father, forces Huck to accept a life of everlasting pain and anguish. In reality, Huck's sacrifice is a noble and uncharacteristic achievement, allowing Huck to unknowingly be bound for heaven.
Jim's sacrifice, although small in his own mind, is in fact one of the bravest sacrifices made throughout this book. For example, after Tom gets shot in the leg, Jim displays his concern for Tom as he says, "No, sah-I doan' budge a step out'n dis place 'dout a doctor; not if it's forty year!" Despite all of the racist and harsh tricks Tom has played on Jim, Jim risks his life to save his "friend." Rather than abandon Tom, Jim is willing to risk his freedom to save Tom's life. Moreover, as Jim makes this brave sacrifice, Huck thinks to himself, "I knowed he was white inside."(chap. XL) Through Jim's sacrifice for Tom, Huck discovers that all men, including blacks, are in fact equal. Huck no longer looks down upon Jim as a "nigger," but rather as an equal human being. Lastly, the doctor describes Jim's heroic sacrifice to the Phelps and tells them that, "He ain't a bad nigger...and I never see a nigger that was a better nuss or faithfuler, and yet he was risking his freedom to do it [save Tom]."(chap. XLII) Jim risked his freedom to save an insolent, racist white boy who had treated him, not as an equal, but as an inferior, unequal nigger. Jim's sacrifice is clearly an act of bravery far more heroic than the sacrifice Huck made earlier in the novel.
Huck and Jim's sacrifices for each other, however different, also present many similarities. For example, Huck and Jim both think they are sacrificing themselves for a friend. Huck sacrifices himself for a black friend he has come to love as an equal. Similarly, Jim sacrifices himself for a friend, when in reality, he is risking his freedom to save the life of a racial bigot, Tom. In addition, both sacrifices have as a consequence a life of everlasting hell. When Huck sacrifices himself for Jim, he accepts a literal hell (that is truly the path to heaven). Jim, on the other hand, accepts a life of figurative hell in slavery, when he is in fact free all along. Finally, each sacrifice shares irony, in that they were both based on unknown pieces of unknown, but significannot pieces of information. Huck is unaware that his decision of accepting "hell" will actually lead to his salvation and ironically decides on doing what the thinks is "wrong." Likewise, Jim is unaware that he is free, and is not risking his freedom in saving Tom.
In making these two brave sacrifices, Huck and Jim achieve a higher character than if they had chosen easier paths. Huck's willingness to face hell to protect Jim and Jim's willingness to face capture and slavery to save Tom, both contribute to the overall theme of racial equality/inequality present throughout the book. Huck and Jim's journey down the Mississippi River has led them to look past colour boundaries, and discover that "all me are created equal."