The change of Huckleberry Finns attitude towards Jim throughout Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011
16 Pages
Celina Glueck (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of the terms ,racism‘ and ,nigger‘
2.1. Racism
2.2. The term ,nigger‘

3. Huckleberry Finn’s change of attitude
3.1. Society
3.2. Jackson Island
3.3. Raft
3.4. Grangerfords house
3.5. Wilks‘ and Phelps‘ farm

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“As Huck grows throughout the novel, he rejects the conventional morality of Southern racism.“ (Smith 1984, p.4).

Based on the quotation above, I want to analyze how Huckleberry Finn‘s attitude towards Jim changes in the course of the book. I will try to find out, whether Huck really refuses the racist attitude of society. Huckleberry Finn starts out with a racist attitude, which changes in the course of the story. The termpaper will clarify in which way his belief changes. I will show how Huck speaks to and about Jim. Furthermore, I will show how he behaves towards Jim. Another question that will be discussed is in how far Huckleberry Finns racist mindset is influenced by society. Therefore it will be helpful to understand the view and opinion of the society he is surrounded by. Throughout my termpaper, I will also take a look at the general attitude of society at the point of time the book is placed. Furthermore, I will show the racist believes of the society and their cruel behavior towards black people back in these times.

To create a terminological basis, I will also include the definition of “racism” and write about the term “nigger” that was widely in use at that time. That is important because the intensively offensive term “nigger” is used 213 times throughout the book (Arac, 1997, p.20). However, Leonard gives a reason for this: “Most, obviously, Twain uses “‘nigger‘“ throughout the book as a synonym for “‘slave‘“ (Leonard, 1992, p.105).

In the first chapters, the racist society Huckleberry Finn lives is shown. It is obvious in which cruel way society behaves towards black people and under what circumstances Huckleberry Finn grows up. The next part consists of chapters eight to eleven where Huckleberry Finn is on Jackson Island. Here, Huck gets to know Jim better and begins to like him. After that Huck and Jim are on the raft in chapters 14 to 16. This is when Huck and Jim get close to each other and begin to trust each other. In chapters 17 and 18, he is in society again- he stays at the house of the Grangerfords. That is the moment Huck misses Jim and the time on the raft they had. In chapter 19, he arrives at the house of the Wilks; there Huck sees for the first time that someone is worrying about black people. Finally he is at the Phelps’ farm where he acts in a way, that doesn’t really fit into Huck‘s normally non-racist behavior towards Jim.

2. Definition of the terms ,racism‘ and ,nigger‘

2.1. Racism

Nowadays, racism is described as unfair and violent behavior towards people of another race. Racism is usually decribed as ‘racist’ people are in the opinion that their own race is better than the race of others. Racism is a discrimination and an act that is against a group of people just because they are members of a different ethnic group. Racism can be expressed in different ways, for example with negative feelings and cruel behavior based on different ethnic heritage. Some people may think that they are more human than the other just because of the other’s ethnicity or skin color. They think just because a person is a member of another ethnic group he or she should have disadvantages, for example don’t have that much econmic opportunities or not that much influence in politics. (Smedley, et al. 2018, p.1).

“Physical differences, notable skin color, are an essential part of the distinction.“ (Eliav-Feldon et al. 2009, p.3).

“As a result of racism people who were physically different were exploited as slaves” (Smedley, et al. 2018, p.1).

Slavery started before the middle ages- it goes back to pre-Christian times. However, when the Europeans shipped Africans to America against their will about the end of the fifteenth century, the organized trade started (D´Souza et al. 1995, p.12).

2.2. The term ,nigger‘

According to John H. Wallace,Webster‘s dictionary once defined the word “nigger“ as a “Negro or a member of any dark-skinned race of people“, this term is offensive (Wallace et al. 1992, p.17). In the time when slavery existed in the USA, “nigger“ was used to describe black people. For this reason, black people have never seen this word as a proper term. “They connect the cruel and brutal time with this word. The word nigger to colored people of high and low degree is like a red rag to a bull. Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter. Negroes do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic in its treatment of the basic problems of the race. Even though the book or play is written by a Negro, they still do not like it.The word nigger, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America“ (Peaches et al. 1995, p.366).

3. Huckleberry Finn’s change of attitude

3.1. Society

The book starts with Huckleberry Finn, who is adopted by Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas. They keep Jim as their slave. Huck says “The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she civilize me…“ (Twain 2017, p.1). This shows that Miss Watson and Widow Douglas take care of Huck and teach him values of the society. But it is noticeable that Huck is not very educated, that is shown by the way he talks. He is using slang and incorrect grammar, which is similar to the language slaves use, for example Jim. But in contrast to slaves he knows how to read. It seems that having a slave at this point of time is normal and nothing special. It is noticeable that slaves are often separate from their families and don’t have an easy life, because the society is not respecting them and treating them like fools, for example in the situation when Tom and Huck play a trick on Jim. Another situation where it is noticeable that slaves are not free and have a difficult life is when Huck says that Miss Watson wants to sell Jim. “I hear old missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn‟ want to, but she could git eight hund‟d dollars for me” (Twain 45).

Miss Watson and Widow Douglas are both Christians and are good people, but they own slaves. Society has influenced Huckleberry Finn by telling him that black people are less valuable and not like white humans, but more like objects. They taught him to call black people “nigger“. Huck learned from society how he should think about and how he should behave towards black people and he never saw any one who treated black people in a friendly and respectful way. I think Schinkel means with this sentence “Huck has been taught the moral language of one time, but not with the necessary flexibility” (2011, p. 511) that Miss Watson and Widow Douglas have taught him that slavery is the right thing, but never spoke with him about his opinion. But I can’t totally agree with Schinkel, because I think that Huck is thinking about the norms and morals of society and not just accepting what society tells him. For example Huck is questioning the system of prayers. Huck’s mother is dead and he is not living with his father anymore, because he is always drunk, lazy and never cares about him. Furthermore he wants to steal his money and beats him. The bad relationship to his father is noticeable when Huck says “Pap he hadnt been seen for more than a year, and that was comfortable for me; I dindt want to see him no more” (Twain, p.12). His father is a racist, as the following quote exemplifies:

“[…] There was a free nigger there from Ohio—a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain’t a man in that town that’s got as Huckleberry Finn fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane—the awfulest old gray-headed nabob in the State. […] They said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. […] but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin. […]“ (Twain, p.28/29).

He can’t live with the fact that a black person wears fine clothes and is educated which is just the opposite of him. He says that he would never vote again is black people were allowed to vote. For many years Huck lives with this racist man and probably heard similar sentences against black people all the years while living with him in the past. Even if Huck avoided him as much as he could, there where role models in town who held the same convictions as his dad. Miss Watson and Widow Douglas want to “civilize” him which Huck comments in this way “[…] I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out” (Twain, p.1). Huckleberry Finn would like to live free, without rules and without religion. At Miss Watson’s house, he is not allowed to smoke, has to learn how to read and has to behave in a good way. When Huck says “[…]but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the Widow was in all her ways; and so when couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out” (Twain, p.1) it is clear that he doesn’t like the Widow that much. He has not got a good relationship with Miss Watson and Widow Douglas.

Huck mentions Jim the first time in the book by calling him “Watsons big nigger, named Jim“ (Twain, p. 5). These usage of words make clear that Huck sees Jim as an object that belongs to someone and is not free. Tom Sawyer is Huck’s friend, but the reader can notice very quickly that he is not a loyal friend. They play to be robbers and when Tom remembers that Huck has no family, besides his father, who is always drunk and never can be found, he says that Huck is not allowed to be in the band anymore. This situation demonstrates that Huck has no true friends until now. They wouldn’t help him in difficult situations.

Huck and Tom Sawyer play a trick on Jim and make fun of him. This shows that they don’t consider Jim as a human with feelings, but more like an object. This represents the society which behaves in a cruel way towards black people and Huck is growing up in this society. The new judge is not willing to give Huck into the care of the widow, even though he knows how cruel Huck's father is. The new judge decides that Huck has to go back to his father, and in this situation Huck is like a slave, because someone else decides about him and he has to return like a slave to a cruel owner. Huck hears that his father is in town and wants to know for what reason, that is why he asks Jim. Jim uses a hairball to tell him his future and although Jim is black Huck trusts his words. Pap kidnaps, imprisons and threatens Huck like a slave. In this time, Huck is free from any values and norms and doesn’t need to behave or learn anything, but is beaten by his father. Huck doesn’t want to stay with him, which is why he fakes his own death by killing a pig. This action shows how uncomfortable he feels living with his father. However, he doesn’t want to go back into society. That shows how lonely he is and that he does not have any family or friend, where he feels free and comfortable.


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The change of Huckleberry Finns attitude towards Jim throughout Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
University of Hamburg
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huckleberry, finns, mark, twain’s, adventures, finn, huckleberry finn, mark twain, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim, attitude, change of attitude, slave, slaves
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Celina Glueck (Author), 2011, The change of Huckleberry Finns attitude towards Jim throughout Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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