Throughout the years, people have debated upon whether or not Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is racist, and if other characters in the book are depicted that way. In the book, we see Huck’s conscience evolve and his personality change, particularly towards the concept of slavery. Even though in the beginning of the book, Huck viewed slavery as normal and completely appropriate, throughout the book his opinion changed due to his friendship with Jim.
Huck demonstrates that it is difficult to dehumanize someone that you have a personal relationship with. Because of his friendship with Jim, Huck’s morals taught by society were contradicted with his feelings and conscience, which is prominent even in today’s society. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was set in the pre-Civil War era, so slavery was very prominent in the South of the United States. As a white male, Huck was taught by society from a very young age that he was superior to a black person, and that they were inhuman and of lesser value.
When Huck played a trick on Jim with a snake and he ended up getting bitten, Huck thought, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger–but I done it” (98). Huck is not at all enthusiastic about having to apologize to a black man, but he does it anyway. This is the beginning of the book where he still has racial prejudice towards black people, but Jim seems to be some sort of an exception. Throughout the book, Jim talked about his freedom and how excited he is to get to Cairo.
However, Huck is revolted to hear how excited Jim was about his freedom and getting abolitionists to bring his family back. It most froze me to hear such talk. He [Jim] wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, “give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell. ”… I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him” (101).
Even though Huck had been with Jim on the raft for some time, it amazed him how strongly Jim felt towards the topic of abolition and freeing or stealing back his family. Huck knows that the reason Jim ran away was to escape slavery, but not until this point in the book did he realize how strongly Jim felt about it and how important it was to him. The reason Huck doesn’t realize how wrong slavery is is because he’s been taught that it’s normal his whole life. Now that he is close friends with Jim and they both rely on each other for survival, Huck is starting to get to know Jim and pay attention to his feelings.
These strong negative feeling towards freed slaves are very prominent in the book, but get less and less strong as the book continues and Huck creates a stronger relationship with Jim. There were many times in the book in which Huck’s conscience contradicts with his values taught by society. Throughout the book, Huck gets less and less prejudiced towards blacks and especially to Jim. In the beginning of the book, even though Huck is taught that slaves were lesser, he still respected them, not to a degree of a white man, but to a degree nonetheless.
He respected them enough to go to them in a time of need and for some advice, and Huck specifically paid attention to Jim. In the book, when Huck realizes that his father is back, it states “He [Jim] said there was a spirit inside of it [hair-ball], and it knowed everything. So I went to him that night and told him pap was here again, for I found his tracks in the snow “ (26). At this point, Huck trusts Jim enough to go to him in his time of desperate need. He could’ve gone to Miss Watson or someone else, but he chose to go to Jim, someone he knew knew the severity of the situation and whom he knew well.
Huck has always respected Jim to some degree, but there is one specific moment earlier on in the book that we see just how much he does. When Huck runs away to Jackson’s Island, he encounters Jim. When he found out why Jim was there, he says, “Honest injun I will. People would call me a low down Ablitionist and despise me for keeping mum- but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t going to tell, and I ain’t agoing back there anyways” (53). Even though Huck thinks that it’s very wrong that Jim ran away from Miss Watson, he respects Jim enough and promises that he won’t tell.
In this moment, we see the first hints that Huck is slowly starting to change his opinion on slavery. A big turning point in the book is when Huck realizes that his morals are changing and that he’s starting to accept slavery, and allows it to happen. He says, “ My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, “Let up on me–it ain’t too late, yet–I’ll paddle ashore at the first light, and tell”… “Is your man [Jim] white or black? I didn’t answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn’t come… “He’s white’” (101-2).
Huck was seconds away from turning Jim in, but a split-second decision changed that. He is starting to give up on his instinct taught by society and listen to his conscience, and is giving in. Huck is learning new morals on his own with the help of Jim, because it’s hard to dehumanize Jim when Huck is friends with and around him constantly. The most important part in the book and the biggest turning point in which there is no going back is when Huck is contemplating writing to Miss Watson to tell her where Jim is so he doesn’t have to worry about it.
He says, “I took it [note] up, and held it in my hand. I was trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, to, betwixt two things, and I knowed it… “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”– and tore it up. ” (228). Huck has fully given in to his conscience, and now understands in his heart that slavery is wrong. This is the point in which the leadup of the book was focused on; waiting for Huck to accept that slavery wasn’t normal, and this is the climax of the book. There will always be the debate upon racism, but we can look back on history to support our arguments.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel we can all learn from, because even though he lived through the Civil War, Mark Twain knew that slavery was wrong. He depicted his feelings in the book, and although it may be controversial, it proves that he thought slavery was wrong, and that he was not a racist. Through the relationship between Huck and Jim, we see his true opinion, and we see the characters evolve and the book progress. Huck learns to accept Jim for who he is instead of the color of his skin, and we must all take from this. It’s just like the cliche saying, “true beauty is what’s on the inside, not what’s on the outside. ”