Racial Issues in Huckleberry Finn

An issue of central importance to Huckleberry Finn is the issue of race. The story takes place in a time of slavery, when blacks were considered inferior to whites, sometimes to the point of being considered less than fully human. But Huckleberry Finn challenges the traditional notions of the time, through its narrator and main character, Huckleberry Finn. While in the beginning, Huck is as unaware of the incorrectness of societyís attitudes as the rest of society is, he undergoes many experiences which help him to form his own perspective of racial issues. Through the adventures and misadventures of Huck Finn and the slave Jim, Twain challenges the traditional societal views of race and encourages people to form their own views of what is wrong and what is right.

Huck begins in the novel as a character who sees things as they really are. Huck acknowledges that some of the stories about him and Tom Sawyer are exaggerated. About Tom Sawyer, Huck says that "That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth" (Twain 4). Huck, however, can be trusted a little more. Huck has no reason to exaggerate the tale he will tell. Tom Sawyer had his A-rabs and elephants. "I reckoned he believed in the A-rabs and the elephants, but as for me I think different" (Twain 14). Huck therefore tells things in his story just as they happened. He has no need for the exaggeration. Huck Finn therefore is a reasonably reliable narrator; he sees the truth as it is, and likewise he tells it as it is.

Huck Finn fakes his own death and then runs away from home. The immediate cause is to escape from his father. The underlying reason, however, is that he isnít satisfied with the role that society confines him in. "I didnít want to go to school much, before, but I reckoned Iíd go now to spite pap" (Twain 21). Once Huck takes to the river, he has escaped from society and can view it with a new perspective.

The heart of the story begins when Huck meets up with the escaped slave Jim. Huckís first step to overcoming societyís prejudice and racism occurs when he meets Jim on the island. "I was ever so glad to see Jim. I warnít lonesome, now" (Twain 36). From this point forward, Jim is not a just a slave to Huck. He is a partner.

From the first, Huck is willing to violate the rules of society. Jim implores Huck not to tell anyone that he has run away. "People would call me a low down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum Ė but that donít make no difference" (Twain 38). In the beginning, Huck doesnít turn Jim in to the authorities for two reasons. One is that he has very little respect for the authorities. Another is that it is not convenient for him to turn Jim in. Without Jim, Huck would be alone. And he does not want to have to deal with that again; he would rather have a partner. So in the beginning, Huck does not step far beyond the views of race issues that society holds.

The society which Huck tries to escape looks down upon blacks. Society sees blacks as nothing more than slaves, possessions. Jim himself reinforces this: "I owns mysef, en Iís wuth eight hundíd dollars" (Twain 41). The society also sees blacks as superstitiously afraid. Huck and Tom tease Jim at the beginning of the story, playing a trick on him, which Jim blames on witches. And because of this superstition, society sees blacks as stupid.

Huck develops a different view of blacks through the story. It is not an instant change, but a gradual process. Different events shape Huckís perspective. One such event is the night when Huck and Jim became separated in the fog. Huck finds Jim asleep, and decides to play a trick on him. He pretends that he had never left the raft. But Jim eventually sees past this:

"Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey frenís en makes Ďem ashamed."
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger Ė but I done it, and I warnít ever sorry for it afterwards, neither" (Twain 73-74).
At this point, Huck is still retains the influence that society has had on him, but he is beginning to escape from that to form his own view.

Each of Huck and Jimís adventures bring Huck closer to the realization that there is something wrong with societyís view of blacks. Finally, Huck pulls out a sheet of paper and pens a letter to Miss Watson to tell her that he has her slave Jim. At first he thinks he feels good about himself; he believes he has finally followed his "conscience." However, he doesnít send off the letter right away, "but laid the paper down and set there thinking" (Twain 179). He thinks about how bad he has been in societyís view. He thinks about how good Jim has been to him, and how he is the only friend that Jim has.

I was a trembling, because Iíd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
"All right, then, Iíll go to hell" Ė and tore it up. (Twain 179-180)
Huck still believes that society is correct, but he chooses to ignore society and do what he feels is right, regardless of what society believes.

To put his feelings into action, Huck decides that he will definitely help Jim to escape from slavery. From this point, he doesnít care how much society might resent him for it. It feels right to him, and he will do it. This action goes contrary to the social norms. A white was never expected to care about a black, much less to help one escape. But Huck did just that. Huck has opened his mind to the view that slavery is wrong; he has taken a big step in this direction. In this manner, Huck Finn attacks the social norm of slavery in specific, and racism in general.

The representations of race and the challenges to social norms of racism make up an important part of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck himself undergoes a change; he stops accepting the social norms and instead follows his own beliefs. He acquires these beliefs after many adventures with the slave Jim. In this way, Twain encourages people to be like Huck and not to accept the racism just because society accepts it.


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