Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Racism On Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4222 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in 1884. The text mainly deals with Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s river trip. In the beginning of the text, there is a warning notice, which states that “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot” (Twain 2). Of course, the narrative can be simply considered as Huck and Jim’s exciting adventure. However, despite the warning notice, it is necessary to find a motive, a moral, and a plot in the narrative because a white boy and a black slave’s river trip seems to have intended but hidden meanings.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Actually, it was at the end of the Reconstruction period following the Civil War that Twain began to write Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Lee 151). That is, almost ten years had passed since the emancipation of slaves. However, in spite of this epochal event, there was very little change in the rights of black people. Furthermore, southern whites continued to control the emancipated slaves by making a new law such as Jim Crow. So, Twain’s choosing the time when slavery existed as the setting of the text could not help provoking controversy over racism. According to Jung, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was severely criticized and even got terrible reputations of “racial trash” because of expressions like “nigger” and Jim’s clown-like character; there were also opposite views that the text satirized the race issues (Jung 157).

Obviously in the text, whites including Huck and Jim stand in the relation of master and servant; discrimination against Jim is described just as it is and this seems unlikely to be easily changed. Moreover, it is true that Jim’s character is like ignorant, clownish, and obedient black which reminds us of minstrel show of the nineteenth century. In light of these, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn appears not to overcome racial prejudice. However, Huck and Jim’s relationship is also like companions; Huck sometimes puts Jim’s safety before the social system, slavery. Furthermore, Jim is described as more family-oriented, thoughtful, loyal, and faithful than whites. Considering these, contrary to the above-mentioned assumption, the text seems to show the possibility of reconciliation between the two races. So, it is quite difficult to assert Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows either limitation or possibility of the race issues.

However, if we understand the seriousness of slavery, this ambivalent approach is reasonable in some ways. In the nineteenth century, slavery in the United States of America functioned as not only a law but also a paradigm. That is, slavery was connected with all parts of the country; most members of society regarded it as either natural or unavoidable. Moreover, slavery implicitly allowed owners to control slaves violently; this system perverted both personalities and caused amoral situation among people. In short, slavery was the force making the society move back and forth; that was why discrimination against blacks lasted for a long time in spite of the emancipation of slaves. Therefore, it was also impossible for the white author, Twain, to get out of white-oriented values although he might intend to satirize the reality and show the possibility of the race issues.

Of course, taking one position from the arguments about racism of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be meaningful. However, racism is a complex matter; considering the fact that racism has still been a hot issue up to this day, taking a look at both limitation and possibility of racism of the text can be more meaningful. Furthermore, for the detailed but systematic comparison, the following analysis based on three criteria will be helpful: the relationship between whites including Huck and Jim, the individual in slavery system, Jim’s character.


2.1 The Relationship Between Whites Including Huck and Jim: Vertical or Horizontal


As noted above, the narrative in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is developed along with Huck and Jim’s river trip. They go down the Mississippi river on a raft and go through an exciting event together. However, they also have to endure a dangerous situation because of Jim’s status. A white boy, Huck, begins to travel to get out of his surroundings such as the widow Douglas and her sister’s restriction and his father’s violence. On the other hand, a black man, Jim, chooses the trip to free himself from slavery. That is, the purpose of Huck’s trip is different from that of Jim’s; Jim must go to the places where slavery does not exist like Cairo. So, Huck and Jim decide to go from St. Petersburg to Cairo, but they pass it due to a dense fog. To Jim, nothing may be more important than his freedom. Of course, it is true that the river current is quite fast and the raft flies through the water, but it is also true that there are several chances for Jim himself to move to another place to get his freedom. If Jim sincerely wanted to be a free man, he would act independently of Huck. For example, in the 16th chapter, the raft is smashed by a steamboat, which separates Jim from Huck; unfortunately Huck goes to the town where slavery exists. Obviously, judging from what he says in the 18th chapter, Jim has the raft and can move to seek his liberty, but he does not. Instead, he follows Huck, stays in hiding in the woods, and waits for him.

I knowed you’s in de house, so I struck out for de woods to wait for day. Early in de mawnin’ some er de niggers come along, gwyne to de fields, en dey tuck me en showed me dis place . . . tells me how you’s a gitt’n along . . . Well, ‘twarn’t no use to ‘sturb you, Huck, tell we could do sumfn. (Twain 103)

Huck neither orders Jim to act like a Huck’s slave nor asks Jim for help. It is not Huck but Miss Watson that has ownership of Jim. Of course, Jim’s action may originate from a fellow feeling because Jim and Huck share a valuable experience in joy or sorrow. However, Jim’s attitude seems to be a slave’s one rather than a fellow’s. Definitely, Jim has a clear and ultimate goal of freedom; he has to achieve it to extricate his left family from slavery no matter what happens to him. Jim really does not need to do that. So, Jim’s action like waiting and following without hesitation is based on the vertical relationship between a white and a black under the slavery system.

Moreover, from the 34th chapter, Jim appears to be a Huck and Tom Sawyer’s toy. Jim satisfies two white boys’ ridiculous demands even though his freedom is right around the corner. For example, Jim eats food containing tools for escape and sleeps with rats, snakes, and spiders. Of course, Jim knows that these plans are absurd and even makes complaints about the plans, but this is only temporary. He just accepts two white boy’s suggestions and does as he is told although Jim is not Huck and Tom’s legal slave and even older than them. Furthermore, what is worse, Tom already knows Jim has been emancipated by Miss Watson’s will, but he takes advantage of Jim’s anxiety and longing for freedom. Tom is interested in only his adventure. Unbound Jim does not need to be emancipated again. Therefore, an episode related to Jim’s escape shows both Jim’s obedience as a black slave and whites’ perception of one. Also, Tom’s deception on Jim and Jim’s miserable situation reflect the reality of continuous discriminations against blacks in spite of the emancipation of slaves.


Huck does not accompany Jim in the beginning of the trip because he just escapes from his surroundings. His father, Pap, has abused him and even kept him from going school; Huck is no better than a orphan. Of course, the widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson has protected Huck, but he feels uncomfortable even though they show their compassion to him. The widow Douglas and Miss Watson want him to be a civilized man. They patronize him first and last; this is not in harmony with his nature. In other words, Huck gets to know how to distinguish something good from something bad but does not feel true love from them. So, Huck devises a scheme and pretends to be murdered and then thrown into the river to be free from the surroundings restricting him. Moreover, even when he notices villagers try to find him, he does not expose himself to them.

However, in the 8th chapter, when Huck meets Jim by chance on the Jackson’s Island, his attitude towards Jim is different from that towards villagers. He shows himself to Jim instead of hiding himself and then expresses his pleasure because he does not feel lonely anymore. Furthermore, in the 11th chapter, Huck suggests leaving from the Jackson’s Island together to Jim after he knows people are about to visit the Island soon, stating “There ain’t a minute to lose. They’re after us” (Twain 58). Clearly, Huck uses the word, not I and you but we, which originates from a fellow feeling. So, considering Huck’s action, Huck has a sense of closeness with Jim and even depends on him.

Moreover, Jim also sometimes expresses his opinion to Huck not as a runaway slave but as a companion. Especially, in the 15th chapter, Jim scolds Huck because although they have a near-death experience in a dense fog, Huck still fools Jim and lies to him. Eventually, Huck regrets his mistakes after listening to Jim’s heartfelt advice.

‘When I wake up en fine you back again’, all safe en soun’, de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss’ yo’ foot I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin ’bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole JIm wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ’em ashamed.’ It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back. It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger — but I done it, and warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way. (Twain 80)

Of course, the widow Douglas and Miss Watson has taught Huck a sense of right and wrong, but they cannot make him change. Huck feels an antipathy to it rather. However, it is Jim that makes him sincerely realize that one should be honest and moral and change. Therefore, Jim’s holding fast to his view and Huck’s accepting the idea and then admitting his fault shows the horizontal relationship well. Also, their relationship looks like companions.

The way to overcome racism starts at admitting all men are equal regardless of race and develops when a fellow feeling is shared. If the belief that some races are inferior to others is rampant, matters caused by racism cannot be easily overcome. So, from the above-mentioned examples, we can find a positive possibility of not the vertical relationship but the horizontal one between blacks and whites.

2.2 The Individual in Slavery System: Unchangeable or Changeable


In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the candid perception of slaves is described. For instance, in the 6th chapter, Huck’s father expresses his deep antipathy towards Ohio where slavery is abolished. Stating that blacks’ having the right to vote is absolutely preposterous, he criticizes blacks and the emancipation of slaves severely. As Huck’s father regards blacks as properties and thinks buying and selling blacks is natural, it is difficult for him to understand the states like Ohio where blacks are respected as individual human beings. Moreover, Pap shows Huck his hatred towards blacks; the teenaged Huck’s perception of blacks cannot help being influenced by his father. So, the value system based on discrimination against blacks tends to go down from the previous generation to the next one, becoming more elaborated and complex.

Actually, Jim is one of the victims in slavery. Jim’s owner, Miss Watson, decides to sell him for eight hundred dollars and tells her plan to the widow Douglas; by chance, Jim eavesdrops at the door, which makes him escape from St. Petersburg. In this situation, what is surprising is that Miss Watson is described as a devout Christian. She lives on Bible and always wants to teach Huck a sense of right and wrong, but she also treats Jim like a product which can be bargained. Therefore, this shows well slavery system causes amoral situation among people and even curbs the influence of religion.

Furthermore, as Jim is a fugitive slave, he has to endure subhuman treatment. For example, two grifters, who introduce themselves as the King and the Duke and then join Huck and Jim on the raft, do not apologetic that they tie Jim with a rope and make his face up to look like a offensive madman. With this humiliated and peculiar look, Jim has to wait for them alone until Huck, the King, and the Duke come back from a village because a fugitive slave, Jim, cannot go to the village with them where slavery exists. Moreover, while Jim is held in the plantation of Silas, he must be confined in a hut. Even, when he tries to escape from it, Aunt Sally and villagers shoot a gun and make dogs chase him. So, these harsh treatments of a fugitive slave may strengthen the slavery system.

However, what is more surprising is that Huck’s perception of blacks is not changed entirely even though he has accompanied Jim for a long time. When the King sells Jim for forty dollars, Huck begins to seek Jim, telling the Duke that Jim is the only property for him. Also, when Aunt Sally asks Huck if his trip has been safe or not, Huck replies that nobody was hurt, but a nigger died (Twain 199). Judging from his utterance, he still thinks of Jim as a slave. Moreover, his continuous using the expression, nigger, shows his attitude towards Jim. Actually, from the beginning of the text, the expression, nigger, is used very frequently by whites including Huck. According to Suh, the word that refers to blacks has been changed and a nigger is a product of slavery system (Suh 52). Obviously, this word makes Jim and other blacks feel humiliated. Therefore, the situation that happens in the text shows not only the individual in slavery cannot help being influenced by the social system, but also people cannot be easily changed although the social system can be changed.


In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there are scenes which show humanity wins a social law, slavery. For instance, in the 16th chapter, when Jim expresses his longing for going to Cairo to be free from the life as a slave, Huck feels very anxious. Huck worries about events yet to happen because if Jim becomes a free man, he will be responsible for it. Huck thinks he would rather die than live in this agony; he seems to be unable to get out of social norm. After all, he decides to inform on Jim as soon as he reaches land. However, when a skiff with two men in it comes, Huck protects Jim wittily, telling them the other who joins him is a white. Of course, after they go off, Huck realizes he has done wrong and then feels bad; he even consoles himself with the fact that he does not learn to do right. However, it is an undeniable fact that his decision originates from a good heart.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Furthermore, Huck’s conflict between Jim and society happens again. In the 31st chapter, Huck gets to know that the King sells Jim for forty dollars; he thinks it would be better if Jim is sent to St. Petersburg rather than stays in the plantation of Silas. Also, his reputation to come, God’s providence, and lessons from school bother Huck. So, he decides to write a letter to Miss Watson to inform on Jim and make her take him over to her house. However, Huck fails to finish writing the letter because the memory related Jim on the raft trip crosses his mind.

And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before m, all the time . . . and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, see that paper . . . ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ (Twain 193)

Huck’s decision of going to hell rather than informing on Jim is more valuable than ever. Hell in his utterance means breaking social rules and going against his own conscience. Actually, it is impossible to live completely apart from society. As Huck was born and has been raised in a southern state of America, he has no choice but to be influenced by slavery. So, it is not easy for Huck to reach the decision although he is a rebellious teenager and even wants to flee from civilized culture. Individual usually seems to be helpless against the power of society and the social system appears not to be easily changed. However, Huck finally puts Jim before the social system, slavery; ironically, he chooses not to go to hell. Therefore, from these Huck’s brave decisions, we can see an appropriate example that individual decision based on humanity wins a social norm. Furthermore, it is important to know that individual members can create a driving force that moves society and then make a better situation.

2.3 Jim’s Character: Inferior or Superior


Blacks’ characters in a text often arouse a controversy. Even, if an author is a white, the controversy tends to flare up. Jim’s character in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is just the case. According to Marx, Jim is intentionally fabricated character and has an image of obedient black clown (Marx 341). Jim’s clownish, superstitious, ignorant, and obedient character gives us the impression that something is exaggerated.

In the 2nd chapter, Tom takes away Jim’s hat and hangs it on a limb, but as Jim is drunk with sleep, he does not notice it. After waking up, Jim thinks that he is bewitched by witches; he begins to boast about it. Blacks come miles to hear Jim’s story and they looks up him and consider Jim as a miracle man. Moreover, whenever Jim tells it to other blacks, he spreads it more and has a tendency to oversell himself like a clown.

Also, Jim appears to be enchained by superstition; his ignorance is magnified. Jim knows most kinds of superstition, especially related bad luck. He always acts on this superstition; if a situation derives from his belief, he feels really nervous. For instance, Jim thinks of touching a snake’s skim with hands is the worst in the world; in the 10th chapter, Huck does so and kills a snake. What is worse, accidentally Jim is bitten on his ankle by another snake. While Huck thinks he himself causes this situation, Jim totally depends on superstition related to a snake. Even Jim loses his head, drinks heavily, and yells.

Moreover, Jim seldom or never goes against whites’ wishes. Although whites’ demands are too ridiculous, he obeys their will. When the King and the Duke tie him with a rope, Jim endures being tied for a couple of days. When they even make his face to look like a offensive madman, Jim pretends to be the madman rather. Also, as mentioned above, Jim’s emancipation comes right around the corner and he notices two white teenagers’ plan is absurd, but Jim satisfies their adventurous spirit. Huck and Tom are neither an adult nor Jim’s owner.

Jim he couldn’t see no sense in the most of it, but he allowed we was white folks and knowed better than him; so he was satisfied, and said he would do it all just as Tom said. (Twain 223)

Jim is finally emancipated and gets free. However, from clownish, superstitious, ignorant, and obedient Jim, it is difficult to expect a new image leading a change for the blacks’ rights. Of course, Jim has also been in a southern state of America; he is obliged to act like that. However, if Jim does not change himself, his freedom may be a matter of no great import because he should overcome not only slavery system but also perception towards blacks.


In spite of criticism about Jim’s character, Jim is sometimes described as superior to whites in the text. Smith stresses Jim’s moral superiority, citing the example that Huck protects Jim from slavery due to Jim’s humanity (Smith 8). Jim is family-oriented, thoughtful, and faithful. This aspect gives whites a refreshing jolt and even makes them change.

Contrary to Huck’s father, Jim shows his affection towards his family. In the beginning of the river trip, Huck does not understand slaves’ family spirit. He has not experienced a true relationship as a family; he thinks it is natural for slave family to live scattered. So, when Jim says his future plan that he wants to buy his wife and children and then live together, Huck comes up with the old saying, ‘give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.’ However, in the 23rd chapter, when Jim moans, mourns, and tells Huck his daughter, Huck feels empathy. Even Huck describes Jim cares his family as much as whites and this seem to be natural. Through the trip, he gets to know Jim is a good person. Furthermore, Jim guards the raft instead of Huck and let Huck go to sleep. As Jim has children and Huck is young boy, he may regard Huck as son. So, Jim’s family-oriented and thoughtful mind mellows Huck’s heart more and more.

Jim also shows his faith even though he is placed in a difficult situation. Especially in the 40th chapter, Tom takes a bullet in the process of helping Jim’s escape. In some ways, Tom puts himself in danger. As Tom wants the adventure to be more exciting, he makes the plan for escape complicated and even dangerous. When Jim, Huck, and Tom run away from the hut, villagers chase them fiercely, shooting a gun. So, Tom cannot throw the entire blame on Jim or Huck. However, Jim shares the responsibility willingly.

Well, den, dis is de way it look to me, Huck. Ef it wuz him dat ‘uz bein’ sot free, en one er de boys wuz to git shot, would he say, ‘Go on en save me, nemmine ’bout a doctor f’r to save dis one?’ Is dat like Mars Tom Sawyer? Would he say dat? You bet he wouldn’t! Well, den, is Jim gwyne to say it? No, sah—–I doan’ budge a step out’n dis place, ‘dout a doctor; not if it’s forty year!’ (Twain 247)

Huck goes to a village to ask a doctor for help; Jim waits for Huck and the doctor with Tom. Jim chooses to put Tom’s safety before his freedom. After all, the doctor comes to the raft, but he wants some help because there is too much work for him to handle. So, Jim hidden in the woods gets out and assists him to save Tom. However, in spite of Jim’s sacrifice, the doctor locks him up and hands him over to Aunt Sally. Furthermore, the doctor says a nigger like Jim is worth a thousand dollars. That is, the doctor regards Jim as property, no more, no less. Therefore, judging from this scene, Jim shows moral superiority to whites.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn simply seems to deal with Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s river trip but involves intended but hidden meanings. As Twain write Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at the end of the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, a white boy and a black slave’s trip down the Mississippi river on a raft could not but provoke controversy over racism.

The relationship between whites including Huck and Jim seems to be both vertical and horizontal; the individual in slavery system is either unchangeable or changeable; Jim’s character is both inferior and superior to whites. Considering these ambivalent examples, the text shows the limitation and the possibility of reconciliation between the two races. So, it is quite difficult to assert Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows either limitation or possibility.

However, if we understand the individual cannot be separated from a social system, this ambivalent approach seems to be natural. It is impossible to live completely apart from society. As we were born and have been raised in a society, we have no choice but to be influenced by a social norm such as slavery. However, we should break away from the fetters because it is we that make the fetters. Racism has still been a hot potato up to this day. So, taking a look at both limitation and possibility of racism of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be meaningful.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: