Society Shaped by Relationship
A hero is a man with distinguished courage or ability. Many people identify heroes in their lives, and often, one models his or her ambitions around those heroes’ example. Children, young men in particular, often have a hero of some sort that they look up to. However, many young people fail to recognize the quiet heroes that have supported them their whole lives. For example, a son can turn to his father for guidance and direction, because a father has the unique ability to guide his son into manhood. In the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, there is a common but controversial view that Jim, a runaway slave who accompanies Huck on his adventure, is Huck’s true father-figure. Over the course of the novel, Huck and Jim develop a relationship that becomes a substitute for the father-son relationship that Huck has never had with his biological father, Pap. Jim plays a larger role in the novel as it goes on. He ultimately is the person who nurtures Huck as he matures while simultaneously acting as a literary instrument of Twain’s social commentary.
Twain paints Pap as an ill-suited father from the beginning of the novel. Twain describes Pap with animal-like adjectives as he writes, “He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines” (Twain 18). With this savage depiction of Pap, Twain portrays him as a sorry sight of a man who is not capable of taking care of his son Huck. Upon seeing Pap for the first time in a while, Huck makes it clear that he despises his father. Rather than bringing joy and happiness Huck’s his life, Pap causes his son pain and agony. In addition, Huck’s resentment for his father is cemented when Pap tries to steal a fortune that Huck finds while on an adventure with Tom Sawyer. He tells his son, “‘I’ve been in town two days, and I hain’t heard nothing but about you bein’ rich […] That’s why I come. You git me that money tomorrow—I want it”’ (20). Pap returns to find Huck, not because he wants to see his son, but because he wants Huck’s recently acquired fortune. His avaricious greed is stronger than his paternal instinct. Through this scene, Pap shows that he is the epitome of an incapable parent, completely unable to think about the well-being of others. Furthermore, Pap shows that he lacks the ability to take care of himself when he is arrested for being drunk in public. As a result of his terrible display, the new Judge in town takes Pap into his own home in the hope of changing the man’s drunken ways. In the hope of rehabilitating him, the Judge lets Pap off with a pity story. However, Pap sneaks out of the judge’s house to buy alcohol, “[…] and in the night some time he got powerful thirsty […] toward daylight he crawled out again, drunk as a fiddler (22). Pap’s manipulation of the naïve judge gives offers further insight into his treacherous ways. Pap takes advantage of the Judge’s sincerity. Through his actions, Pap is showing Huck how not to live an honest life. He is a negative influence on Huck. His chronic abuse of alcohol and his immoral standards all but ensure that it is impossible for him to be a positive father-figure for Huck.
Jim, on the other hand, is a gentle and loving human being who coincidentally ends up with Huck on his adventure. Jim has a positive influence on Huck as they join forces to escapes society and civilization. Although the pair escapes for different reasons, (Huck wants freedom from society and his father, Jim wants freedom from slavery so he can see his family again), they both share the overall goal of gaining freedom. The two start out as friends, but their relationship slowly begins to develop into a familial one. The first noticeable change in Huck and Jim’s relationship occurs midway through the novel when a heavy fog splits the two apart. Jim worries he will never see Huck again. After being reunited with Huck, Jim’s worries are quelled, “En when I wake up en fine you back ag’in, all safe en soun’, de tears come, en I could ‘a’ got down on my knees en kiss yo’ foot, I’s so thankful” (86). Huck’s disappearance terrifies Jim. He worries about Huck the entire time he is gone. When they are reunited, Jim’s relief is so overwhelming that he begins to cry. Jim’s response to Huck’s disappearance shows that Jim cares about Huck in a way that Pap never could. The paternal bond between the two develops over the nourse of their journey. When the pair thinks that they have reached Cairo, Jim is ecstatic and affectionately tells Huck how much Huck means to him, “‘Huck; I’s a free man […] Jim won’t ever forgit you, Huck; you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; en you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now”’ (89). This heartwarming statement reinforces Jim’s true feelings towards Huck. As a result of their bond, Huck has gradually been able to root himself in the deepest corners of Jim’s heart, and by doing so, Huck opens the door for Jim to take the initiative and assert himself into the role of his father.
Towards the latter section of the novel, the true power of the bond between Huck and Jim is evident in two distinct events. After the dauphin sells Jim, Huck has a moral battle in his head. He believes sinned by helping Jim escape, so he decides to write to Miss Watson, telling her of Jim’s whereabouts. After writing the letter, however, Huck reminisces of the good times he spent with Jim on the river and decides not to sell the man out. “I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’—and tore it up,” (214). He knows that if Miss Watson finds Jim, she will sell him and so, he decides he’d rather “go to hell” than send the letter. Jim’s capture is a major moment of maturation for Huck because it leads him to significant moral reckoning. Huck cares too much about Jim to deny the man’s humanity, despite his status as a slave. As a result, Huck decides to act justly and go against society by helping Jim. This was an extremely bold move at the time because by helping a runaway slave, Huck puts his reputation and well-being at risk. Huck’s epiphany reveals the way that Huck and Jim have become a family. Huck will do anything for Jim and vice versa. Furthermore, at the close of the novel, Jim makes one last statement that solidifies his paternal role in Huck’s life. He admits that he hid Pap’s dead body from Huck, “‘Doan’ you ‘member de house dat was float’n down de river, en dey wuz a man in dah, kivered up, en I went in en unkivered him an didn’ let you come in? Well, den, you kin git yo’ money when you wants it, kase dat wuz him [Pap],”’ (293). By shielding Huck from seeing his father’s corpse, Jim yet again affirms that he is a decent human being. Even though Huck despises the very sight of his father, he still loves Pap deep down because after all, no matter how terrible of a father Pap has been, he is still Huck’s biological father. However, in this instance, Jim, like any good father, protects Huck from the harsh realities of the world. He knows seeing Pap’s dead body will scar Huck for life. By the end of their adventure, Huck and Jim have been able to forge a paternal bond that is virtually indestructible.
Throughout the novel, Twain uses Huck and Jim’s relationship as a vehicle for his social commentary. It is both ironic and humorous that this young white boy becomes the sole companion to an African-American slave. Twain also uses Huck and Jim’s relationship as a way for readers to feel empathy for both sides. Both Huck and Jim have qualities that register with readers, even though they might not consciously agree with the idea of a free slave. In this way, Twain crafts the message that slavery and race discrimination are wrong, but without taking the heavy-handed tone of an abolitionist. Slavery places Jim under the control of white society, and through his character, Twain is able to expose the hypocrisy of slavery. He also goes further and demonstrates the ways in which racism burdens the oppressors as much as it does the oppressed. This distortion makes seemingly “good” people such as Miss Watson or Sally Phelps feel no guilt about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family. Twain wants his readers to realize that slavery is wrong and that African-Americans are human beings despite their skin color.
Through the experiences that Huck and Jim endure throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain exposes his society’s brutality and ruthlessness. The bond between Huck and Jim functions on two different levels in the novel. First, it is an emotionally heart-gripping expression of paternity, and secondly, they offer an artistically-fuelled statement against white supremacy and racism. Huck and Jim are able to form an indestructible bond and break away from a society filled with liars, cheaters, and racists. Because of the unusual paternal bond between Huck and Jim, this novel is a vital piece of American literature.
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