The very much alike: they are not
The purpose of this essay is to explore the variety of slavery-related implications in Mark Twain’s ´Huckleberry Finn´, mainly by following scenes which include Jim, Miss Watson´s slave. In the first part, I want to explore the dimension of slavery by analyzing how Huckleberry Finn regarded Jim, while in the second part I will focus on exposing Jim as the person behind the slave status. First of all, it is essential to understand that slaves were not considered regular human beings, but property belonging to the wealthy white people that could afford them.
More precisely, ´in some societies, slaves were considered movable property, in others immovable property, like real estate. They were objects of the law, not its subjects.´(Hellie) Therefore, it is not difficult to see why most characters completely dehumanize Jim and profit off of him being uneducated and restrained by the surroundings which he was allowed to access by his owner. Huckleberry Finn makes no exception from this in the first part of the novel, even though it turns out that they are very much alike: they are not ´sivilized´, they both suffer from the effects of having to live according to society´s standards and expectations and both of them seek freedom. However, the colour of their skin is what makes Huck believe that he is superior, according to the bits of so-called education he managed to receive from the widow and as a result,for example, dishearteningly mocks Jim´s superstitious side, ignorant of the fact that his interest for such practices is possibly what keeps him sane.
The superstitions in which Jim believed can be perceived as an act of exercising his own free will, which was of course impaired, by creating his own truth and expressing his own beliefs in a manner that could resemble religious faith. On the other hand, as both Huck and Jim live as fugitives, Huckleberry Finn finds himself in an interesting position of conflicting ideas regarding his companion. Whether this is based purely on a type of empathy that he is unaware of or on the fact that his young age still allows his thinking to show some flexibility, or that he may even have the ability to engage in a more or less serious form of introspection, it is clear that Huck challenges his upbringing. In a society where the slave was not regarded and, therefore, not treated as a person, he slowly discovers the novelty of the human side of a black person.
As Huck thinks to himself, Jim is not only present, but deeply involved in their journey by showing affection and gratitude towards him and by taking care of him. (One should keep in mind, though, that the fact that Jim is exaggeratedly grateful to any sign of compassion from Huck further states how poorly people of colour were treated in the areas where slavery was yet to be abolished.) Moreover, Huckleberry Finn needs to decide whether to turn Jim in or not and in order to do so, it is up to him to judge upon a few essential issues, of which we must include the following two: treating the slave like a piece of property once again and respecting the so-called Christian duty. It is more than obvious that by considering Jim one of Miss Watson´s belongings, the fair act would be to return the lost or stolen slave, if Huck was to obey the educational norms that have been imposed on him, placing Miss Watson in a victim position. At the same time, not informing the owner about having been in possession of the slave during his escape would be a sinful act, against a good Christian´s moral code.
Nevertheless, Huck is still aware of these concepts but manages to detach himself, letting the experience of his journey with Jim speak louder than them and decides that he´d rather embrace hell for eternity than betray him. Alternatively, it would be quite naïve of the reader to choose to believe in the same kind of benevolence from a character like Miss Watson, even though the novel describes how she too supports his freedom. ´Writer and English professor Julius Lester comments: Yet we are now to believe that an old white lady would free a black slave suspected of murdering a white child. White people may want to believe such fairy tales about themselves, but blacks know better.
´( Carey-Webb, 25) In other words, it may be tempting to follow a path that shows Jim´s way to liberation as a linear one which ends in a way that fulfills the reader´s wishes, but it simply wouldn´t be realistic. After all, if the wisdom and the mentality of such a character had been truly like this, Jim wouldn´t have found himself in his difficult situation from the very beginning and there wouldn´t have been a necessity for such a tumultuous escape. It is, however, of perhaps even higher importance to analyze Jim himself, as an individual character with his own narrative development. The first matter that needs to be accounted for is his escape. The slave status is a pertinent motivation of his lack of knowledge about the world outside of the land where he was bound.
´As a runaway slave, he was the preeminent outsider, the existential rebel- the man to be hunted down and punished by all forces of law and order. Of course, when the hunted black fugitive and outsider meets the disaffected and poor white outsider- one long kept in childlike ignorance of a larger world by slavery´s dictum and the other long victimized by his po´s white trash status in a capitalist society- Twain, the story-teller, take over and begins to weave incidents and events into a suspenseful narrative.´ (Barksdale, 18) These incidents are exactly what creates a bond between the two characters and allows the reader to get to know Jim´s nurturing side by watching him become a paternal figure for Huck, who was in need of a father figure as he never had one to look up to.
Jim´s character is actually directly connected to family and has one of the few functional nuclear families in the novel, which he left in fear of not being permanently separated from. He does, indeed, not have a completely clean family history, as he acted in abusive ways towards his daughter in the past, but unlike Huck´s father, he shows good intentions, even if a not-so-refined manner. It has even been considered that ´Jim´s abuse of his daughter displaces Pap Finn´s inebriated opprobrium toward his son, Huck.´( Jarett, 5) In conclusion, it is essential to note just how diverse the condition of the slave is in ´Huckleberry Finn´ and how it reflects the complexity of the human nature through one individual that finds himself in the most disadvantaged position in