Is Huckleberry Finn a Racist
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a book which addresses the issues of race and slavery in the slave-holding South of the early 19th century. It tells the story of Huck Finn, whoâ€™s drunken, abusive father forced him to run away from home, and the story of Jim, a runaway slave who deeply wishes for himself and his family to be free. Huck and Jim become unlikely allies when they both run away from their masters at the same time. They journey down the Mississippi River on a raft in an attempt to escape their suppressors. Throughout their journey, Huck matures from a racist boy to a compassionate young man. Although many characters in the book are racist and have no respect for blacks, Huck Finn, when taken as a whole, preaches tolerance and shows that slavery is wrong.
Before one can fully understand the novel, one must understand the time period and culture in which it was written. Although the word â€œniggerâ€ is now considered rude and offensive, it was not so during the time period in which Twain wrote this novel. Huck grew up in a slave-holding town in Missouri, so racism was planted in him from a very young age. Throughout Huck Finn, African Americans are constantly referred to as â€œniggers.â€ Although some characters, such as Huckâ€™s father, were racist, complaining that the government must â€œset stock-still for six whole months before it can take a-hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger,â€ (p. 36) other characters, such as Mary Jane, were very attached to blacks. She was crying, â€œand it was the niggersâ€ (p. 181) that were causing her to cry, because they were being sold and the family was going to be separated. These events show that the word â€œniggerâ€ was merely part of the vernacular of Southern culture during the 1800’s and not strictly a racist term. It further illustrates that Twain recognized the evils of racism, as shown in the drunken, child-beating, illiterate, racist character that is Huck Finnâ€™s father, Pap.
As shown in the aforementioned example, Mary Jane did not view blacks as mere property, but as human beings with feelings. When her â€œunclesâ€ (the king and the duke) decided to sell her slave family, she and her sisters were crying and hugging the slaves. None of them could believe that the family was going to be split up. Although they all felt that it was wrong, they did not dare do anything to remedy the situation because of the culture in which they were raised. Much later in the book, Jim shows an even more powerful example of black humanity. When he and Tom are on the island with the doctor, Jim gives up his freedom to help the doctor save Tomâ€™s life. Even though Tom had never been kind or fair to Jim, Jim could not stand for a child to be hurt, no matter the personal consequences.
In stark contrast to the humanity which Twain illustrated in slaves, he showed many flaws in the white â€œsocietyâ€ of his time. The most prevalent and obvious examples are the scenes with the duke and the dauphin. One such scene is â€œRoyal Nonesense,â€ in which the king and duke put on a â€œperformanceâ€ to rob the crowd of its money. Rather than punish the duke and dauphin, the audience decides to tell the rest of the town that it was a good show so that they would all look foolish. The â€œsocietyâ€ shown in this scene is one of a malicious mob, not the â€œpious actionsâ€ which a white supremacist would display.
Although the people Huckâ€™s party met in towns were not righteous, the duke and dauphin themselves were the worst of all. They pretended to be the brothers of a diseased man so that they could steal the six thousand dollars he left behind in his will, in addition to an even greater sum by liquidating his property. Were it not for Huck and the untimely arrival of the true brothers, they would have robed his remaining relatives – his nieces – of approximately fifteen thousand dollars. (In todayâ€™s currency that would be just shy of one million dollars.) When their plan to rob the Wilks family failed, the king and the duke sell Jim for $40 so that they have money to run further scams with. These two characters show the greed and selfishness of Twainâ€™s white â€œsocietyâ€ in a way which is humiliating to the human race, and not whatsoever in support of white supremacy.
Yet another example of flawed white society is the feud between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords. At one point in the novel, Huck and Jim are separated, and Huck found himself staying with the Grangerford family. His hosts were in a feud-to-the-death with the neighboring Shepherdson family, but nobody remembered what the feud was about. Just before Huck leaves, there is a major shoot-out and many family members on both sides were killed. The white â€œsocietyâ€ shown here is simply organized anarchy, and demonstrates Twainâ€™s utter lack of faith in the white race.
Although it is true that Huck was racist at the beginning of the novel, he overcomes his upbringing during the rest of the book. On several occasions Huck has the urge to do the â€œrighteousâ€ thing and report Jim to anybody whom they pass on the raft. However, when two men who were hunting for runaway slaves came upon their raft, Huck told them that Jim was his father and had smallpox to scare them off. Later in the novel, Huck wrote a letter to Ms. Watson telling her where Jim was so that she could take Jim back. Huck tried to harden himself against Jim so that he could send the letter, but he could not think of one instance where Jim had wronged him. Huck could only recall times when Jim had been kind, protective, and caring towards Huck. On the other hand, Huck also believes that it is a sin to help a runaway â€œnigger.â€ This torn conscious causes a great deal of internal struggle for Huck. Finally, Huck decides, â€œAll right, then, Iâ€™ll go to hell,â€ (p. 207) and he tore up the letter.
It is clear that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a racist novel. The novel shows human qualities in African Americans, while simultaneously revealing many shortcomings in whites. Those who would argue otherwise, such as the mother in the film that we watched in class, should be more open-minded. The use of the work â€œniggerâ€ in Twainâ€™s time did not always equate to racism.