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The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Research Paper Example

Pages: 3

Words: 908

Research Paper

Racism and Religion in Realist Novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The novel by M. Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reveals crucial societal phenomenon of the time. The most vivid of them are racism and attitude to religion. The novel has been the object of long-term debates for its ambiguous racist aspects providing justification to put it under the ban in literature teaching. Evidently, these attempts relate to multiple usage of the word “nigger” which has acquired extremely offensive coloring.

The racial aspect of the novel obtains representation on several levels. The readers learn the story from the young fugitive Huckleberry Finn who failed to get accustomed to civilized life. Therefore, the events disclose in the light of the boy’s outlook formed by the views of his environment.  Though Huck’s attitude to Jim is agreeable, it is identified primarily through conventional stereotypes inherent in the antebellum South. Therefore, he makes typical comments like, “You can’t learn a nigger to argue”, or Jim “had an uncommon level head for a nigger”. These statements are in consonance with the widespread inhuman attitude to the black population.

The story told sincerely and openly by the young ingenious narrator endows the story with sarcastic characteristics through which the author’s real attitude to slavery looms. Extremely realistic depiction of outrageous treatment of slaves having poor housing and food, losing their families strikes contemporary reader. Huck’s thoughts correlate to these views dictated by society that sees nothing extraordinary in the following phrases: “If I was to catch a nigger that was ungrateful enough to run away, I wouldn’t give him up, I’d hang him” (Twain 369).

The novel reveals the negative aspects of racial oppression within American society of the nineteenth century. It shows slavery as an ordinary phenomenon of its time; it depicts inhuman, cruel, and brutal attitude to African Americans. Pinsker proves that slavery was the most visible manifestation of man’s inhumanity to man – not just the shackles and the beatings, but also in the systematic way in which an entire people was reduced to chattel property” (646). Such attitude to slaves justified that do not deserve to be treated like white people. The conversation between Huckleberry and Aunt Sally is a vivid illustration of the statement:

“Good gracious!  Anybody hurt?”

“No’m. Killed a nigger.”

“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt” (Twain 346).

Despite Jim’s age and experience, Huck considers his rights for domination over him. According to Tuire Valkeakari (2006), “Huck’s narrative of his adventures serves Twain’s projects of unearthing the moral hypocrisy of ‘decent’, churchgoing, and slaveholding white Southerners and of addressing the perils of slavery (32). The researcher speaks of characters that seem positive from the first sight. Thus, the novel represents white population of Missouri unfavorably through their attitude to slavery. Though Widow Douglas is not a slave-owner, she shares the household with Miss Watson who owns Jim.

The next aspect in revealing the racism is the “father-son” relationships between Huck and Jim. The image of Jim is endowed with high moral qualities. The image of caring, attentive Jim is contrasted to abusive, drinking Pap Finn whom Huckleberry was afraid. The escape was stimulated by Jim’s deep feelings to the family. The events of Chapter 9 prove how much Jim concerns about the boy. He decides to spare Huck’s feelings and to conceal that the dead man in the boat was Pap Finn. The features of Pap’s character emphasize the indecent behavior of whites, in contrast to Jim’s dignity. Pap Finn is the embodiment of all the worst qualities: abusive, racist, uneducated, violent. Valkeakari reasonably concludes, “Because of the societal circumstances in which Huck and Jim find themselves, Jim has no authoritative voice (except for the clairvoyant’s voice temporarily granted to him by the magic authority of the hairball), nor is he in a position to articulate the obvious: in consoling and advising Huck he actually substitutes for the young boy’s father”(36).

The images of Jim and Huck are also contrasted as living exponents of property.  Huckleberry Finn also finds himself in the position of property. The judge returns the boy him to Pap despite how badly he abused him. On the other hand, Jim is represented as an example of goodness and caring. However, his intelligence is shown ironically.

In the course of the trip, Huck’s attitude to Jim undergoes transformation. The change from supposing Jim “a chattel”, as Yates points out, is emphasized by Huck’s use of “us” to speak about him and Jim (4).

Huckleberry Finn’s understanding of religion depends much on his experience and age. He imagines the existence of two Gods due to the stories of Mrs. Douglas and Miss Watson which represent different images.  Miss Watson tells him about “bad place”, which attracts him more than heavens. Dwelling on the religion problem in regard of Huck’s converting, Yates concludes, that “Huck decides that there are “two Providences” and that he prefers the widow’s, but as he sees the matter, Providence in any form is that of a slaveholding society and heaven belongs to the respectable”(4).

Works Cited

Pinsker, Sanford. “Huckleberry Finn and the Problem of Freedom”. Virginia Quarterly Review 77.4 (Autumn 2001): 642 -649. Georgia Library Learning Online. 17 Nov. 2010.

Twain, M. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. BiblioBazaar, 2009.

Valkeakari, Tuire. “Huck, Twain, and the freedman’s shackles: Struggling with Huckleberry Finn today”. Atlantis 28.2: 29-43. Georgia Library Learning Online. 17 Nov. 2010.

Yates, Norris. “The “Counter-Conversion” of Huckleberry Finn”. American Literature. 32.1(Mar1960): 1-11. Georgia Library Learning Online. 17 Nov. 2010.

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