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Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper

Characters found in Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn are shown as being victims of the times through their ignorance to the possibility that all men are equal no matter what color skin one has. Pap, Huck’s father, is the most ignorant character within the book. He blatantly comes out and tells the reader his feeling of blacks, while a character such as Tom isn’t so obvious. Along with these two characters, the Royal Nonesuch and the Phelps’s friends display an ignorance of the times. Huck displays ignorance at its best, and shows that with a little love, it can easily be diminished. Throughout the book characters reveal their basis towards black people through the various situations.

The most racist of the characters was Pap. He refused to believe that blacks and whites were equal. Pap walked around with a superior attitude because he was white, which was a common attitude of his time. While some characters, such as Huck, had sympathy towards blacks, Pap did not care for them at all. He thought it to be quite absurd that a free slave “had a gold watch and chain and a silver-headed cane” while Pap had nothing (24). He was disgusted with the fact that this free slave was allowed to vote and he said, “I’ll never vote ag’in as long as I live,” to stress how much he despised blacks (24). Pap believed the government to be corrupt because it couldn’t “sell a free nigger till he’s been in the state six months” (24). He even went on to tell the reader that the free slave was a “prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted nigger” only because he had a different color skin than Pap (24). He never had anything nice to say about blacks, and constantly looked down on them. Twain used Pap’s character

Tom’s ignorance was a lot more subtle than Pap’s. His ignorance was not shown until much later in the book when Huck tells Tom that he is going to “steal” Jim back. Huck was surprised when Tom said he was going to help Huck steal Jim because Huck thought that Tom would say, “it’s dirty, low-down business” (203). Huck, knowing that Tom “was respectable and well brung up; and had a character to lose,” could not figure out why Tom would help steal a slave (210). At this point a reader would think that Tom was not ignorant, but is then surprised to find that Jim was “as free as any cretur that walks this earth (259).” Tom revealed this information after he was shot, telling Mrs. Phelps and Huck that when Miss Watson had died, she felt extremely bad about wanting to sell Jim, so she set him free in her will. This is when Tom’s ignorance shines through to the reader. When Tom was asked why he tried to set a free slave free, he responded with “I wanted the adventure of it (259).” Tom never would have aided Huck in helping Jim escape because of the proper up-bringing Tom had had at that time. To set a slave free was a considered irrational and unlawful, but Tom went along with it because Jim was already free, so there was no risk of breaking the law, or bringing shame to his family, it only brought adventure.

The similarity between the Royal Nonesuch and the Phelps’s friends was their ignorance that blacks served only as a purpose to make whites feel better about themselves. The Royal Nonesuch traveled along with Jim only because they got a free ride out of it. When hard times came for them, they sold Jim for forty dollars. When Huck asked the Duke of Jim’s whereabouts the Duke lied, “he started to tell me the truth, but when he stopped that way, and begun to study and think again,” and lied right to Huck (195). Just as the Royal Nonesuch used Jim to gain money to make themselves feel better, the Phelps’s friends also used Jim to make themselves feel better. When Tom and Jim were returned by the doctor to the Phelps’s house, the Phelps’s friends were very anger at Jim for causing such problems and “wanted to hang Jim for an example to all the other niggers around there (255).” The friends even “cussed Jim considerable and give him a cuff or two side the head once in awhile” and tormented him to their pleasure (255). It was only after the doctor told the friends “Don’t be no rougher on him than you’re obleeged to, because he ain’t a bad nigger,” that the friends decided to stop harassing Jim (255).

Huck was so ignorant to the possibility that all men are equal no matter what color skin one has that he thought several times about turning Jim in. It made Huck “all over trembly and feverish” to think that he was helping a slave escape to freedom (78). Huck felt that he was to blame for Jim’s escaping even though Jim had run away on his own. Huck’s conscience ate at him and said, “But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could ‘a’ paddled ashore and told somebody (79). His conscience further harassed him, telling himself that Miss Watson did not deserve anything to lose her slave, the only thing she did was try to teach Huck manners and to be good. This disturbed Huck so he began to think about turning Jim in, but could not bring himself to do it. He tried to tell a man about Jim when he paddled ashore in the canoe, but could not. Huck reconciled with himself by saying that either way, whether he turned Jim in or not, he would have felt bad, so he dismissed the thought from his mind. Later, Huck again comes across the idea to turn Jim in. The Royal Nonesuch had sold Jim and Huck had no idea on how to get him back. After a lot of thought and torment Huck decides to pray to God, telling him he would do the right thing, but Huck realized that he knew he would not do that, and that you “couldn’t pray a lie (192).” He then decided to write a letter to Miss Watson telling her where Jim was, who had him, and that she could get him back if she sent an award. Huck once again could not bring himself to pray that letter, so he made a final decision and told himself “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” then tore the letter up, rationalizing that God would punish him (192). With Huck’s ignorance, he knew that helping a fugitive slave escape to freedom was wrong, and a person would be severely punished if discovered, not to mention the shame brought upon that person. Huck’s ignorance was changed with Jim’s love and friendship. Through Jim, Huck learned that everyone is equal, and everyone wants freedom and deserves freedom. Huck could not turn Jim in because Jim had become his best friend. Jim stood by Huck through think and thin, and even when Jim could have been better off without Huck, he stuck by him.

These characters are shown as victims of the times because they were all ignorant to the possibility that blacks and whites could be equal, no matter what color skin one has. Through the situations each character is put through, ignorance is shown, and a lesson is learned. Blacks and whites have no difference when it comes to surviving; everyone has wants, no matter what color skin one may have. Pap and the free slave had the right to vote, but Pap’s ignorance let himself believe that the slave did not deserve this right although he was as free as Pap was. Tom’s and the Phelps’s friends ignorance exemplified that ignorance can be taught or learned. Tom was taught that it was wrong to help a man gain his freedom dependent on the color of his skin. The Phelps’s friends learned that people are not as bad as one may think, no matter what color skin one has. The Royal Nonesuch’s behavior proved that some people of that time could be so degrading that they would sell out a person who had helped them so much just to gain what they needed and wanted. Huck’s situation proved ignorance to be at its best because he considered turning in his best friend, and showed that with a little love, and a deep look inside a person, skin color does not matter.

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