Home » Mark Twains ideas of racism in Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson

Mark Twains ideas of racism in Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson

Mark Twain had written two very similar novels that are based on the ideas of racism, or prejudice against certain races,(in this case, Afro-American during his lifetime. These two novels, Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson, depict a very satirical yet realistic view of the way society behaves and how people in general live and grow in different social systems or positions. Huck Finn depicts a strong basis on racism and society, where as Pudd’nhead Wilson illustrates how slavery and racism are portrayed in his society.

There is a major argument among literary critics whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is or is not a racist novel. The question focuses on the depiction of Jim, the black slave, and the way he is treated by Huck and other characters. The use of the word “nigger” is also a point raised by some critics, who feel that Twain uses the word too often and too loosely. Mark Twain never presents Jim in a negative light. He does not show Jim as a drunkard, as a mean person, or as a cheat. This is in contrast to the way Huck’s (white) father is depicted where Twain describes using all of the above characterizations and more.

In Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain develops the plot into Huck and Jim’s adventures allowing him to weave in his criticism of society. The two main characters, Huck and Jim, both run from social injustice and both are distrustful of the civilization around them. Huck is considered uneducated backwards boy, constantly under pressure to conform to the “humanized” surroundings of society. Jim a slave, is not even considered as a real person, but as property. As they run from civilization and are on the river, they ponder the social injustices forced upon them when they are on land.

These social injustices are even more evident when Huck and Jim have to make landfall, and this provides Twain with the chance to satirize the socially correct injustices that Huck and Jim encounter on land. The satire that Twain uses to expose the racism and injustice of society develops along with the adventures that Huck and Jim have. Throughout the book we see the hypocrisy of society. The first character we come across with that trait is Miss Watson. Miss Watson constantly corrects Huck for his unacceptable behavior, but Huck doesn’t understand why, “That is just the way with some people.

They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it”. Later when Miss Watson tries to teach Huck about Heaven, he decides against trying to go there, “… she was going to live so as to go the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. ” The comments made by Huck clearly show Miss Watson as a hypocrite, scolding Huck for wanting to smoke and then using snuff herself and firmly believing that she would be in heaven. This example finds Huck again running to freedom of the river.

The river never cares how saintly you are, how rich you are, or what society thinks you are. The river allows Huck the one thing that Huck wants to be, and that is Huck. The river is freedom than the land is oppression, and that oppression is no more evident than it is to Jim. It can be considered that the river itself is like the north, where jim is a free man, and in Huck’s case, it could be a boarder between either two states or counties that keep Huck safe, because he is not in the original jurisdiction. It is somewhat surprising that Huck’s traveling companion is Jim.

As anti-society that Huck is, you would think that he would have no qualms about helping Jim. But Huck has to have feelings that slavery is correct so we can see the ignorance of racial bigotry. Huck and Jim’s journey begins as Huck fights within himself about turning Jim over to the authorities. Finally he decides not to turn Jim in. This is a monumental decision for Huck to make, even though he makes it on the spot. This is not just a boy running away from home. It is someone who has decided to turn his back on everything “home” stands for, even one of its most cherished beliefs.

In this way Twain also allows to let us leave our thoughts of bigotry behind also and start to see Jim for who he really is, a man. Even though Huck has made his decision about Jim, early in the voyage we see Huck’s attitude towards Jim as racist. Eventually Huck plays a mean trick on Jim and we see Huck begin to change his attitude, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither” (86).

Later on in the story Huck becomes very caring and protective for Jim, where this reaches a climax at the point where Huck saves Jim from two slave catchers by tricking them to think Jim is was Huck’s small pox ridden father. The dialogue between Huck and Jim also illustrates that Jim is more than someone’s property. He is a human being with feelings, and hopes for a better future. He is not some ignorant, uncaring sub-human, but plainly the opposite. Twain does not necessarily come out and say that slavery is evil, that is far above Huck’s understanding, but he gives us the ammunition needed to make that decision for ourselves.

The reader views Jim as a good friend – a man devoted to his family and loyal to his companions. Jim, just like Huck, is, however, very naive and superstitious. Some critics say that Twain is implying that all blacks have these qualities. When Jim turns to his magic hairball for answers about the future, we see that he does believe in some foolish things. But all the same, he is visited by both blacks and whites to use the hairball’s powers. This type of naivete was abundant at the time and found amongst all races – the result of a lack of proper education.

So, the depiction of Jim is not negative in the sense that Jim is stupid and inferior, and this aspect of the story is clearly not meant as a racial slight. Next, it is necessary to analyze the way in which white characters treat Jim throughout the book. Note that what the author felt is not the way most characters act around Jim, and his feelings are probably only conveyed through Huck. In the South during that period, black people were treated as less than humans, and Twain needed to portray this.

The examples of the ways Jim is belittled include being locked up, having to hide his face in the daytime, and being mercilessly ridiculed So, Mark Twain had to display Jim’s treatment in this manner, even if it was not the way he felt. Huck, however, does not treat Jim as most whites do. Huck sees Jim as a friend, and by the end of their journey, disagrees with society’s notion that blacks are inferior. There are two main examples of this in the story. The first one is where Huck is disgusted by Jim’s plans to steal his own children, who are “someone else’s property.

While Huck still seems racially prejudiced at this point, Twain has written the scene in a way that ridicules the notion that someone’s children can actually be the property of a stranger just because the father is black. The second example is where Huck doesn’t reveal Jim’s whereabouts, so as not force Jim to return to slavery. Huck instead chooses to “go to hell” for his decision. This is again Twain making a mockery of Southern values that considered it a sin to be kind to black people. Twain’s critics consider the novel to be racist, and quite outwardly so.

They cite the common use of the word “nigger,” as the most obvious instance of the book’s racism. This, however, is not a good example because this is how blacks were referred to then. To have used the words Negro or African-American would have taken away from the story’s impact, and would make it sound ridiculous. If Twain wanted to write a historically accurate book – as he did – then the inclusion of this word is totally necessary. A closer reading also reveals Twain’s serious satiric intent.

In one scene, for instance, Aunt Sally hears of a steamboat explosion. “Good gracious! anybody hurt? he asks. “No’m,” comes the answer, “Killed a nigger. ” But anyone who imagines that Mark Twain meant this literally is missing the point. Rather, Twain is using this casual dialogue ironically, as a way to underscore the chilling truth about the old south – that it was a society where perfectly “nice” people didn’t consider the death of a black person worth their notice. To drive the point home, Twain has the lady continue: “Well, it’s lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt. ” But what is the book really about? It’s about nothing less than striving for and attaining freedom.

It’s about blacks and whites who break the law and risk their lives to win their freedom. As a result of his upbringing, the boy starts out believing that slavery is part of the natural order. However, as the story unfolds he wrestles with his conscience, and when the crucial moment arises, he decides he will be damned to the flames of hell rather than betray his black friend. Moreover, Jim, as Twain presents him, is hardly a caricature. Rather, he is the moral center of the book, a man of courage and nobility, who risks his freedom – and his life – for the sake of his friend, Huck.

Huck and Jim’s adventures give us a chance to examine the society they live in. It also gives us a chance to examine ourselves as well as the society today. The story is over a hundred years old, but many of the social vices then, sadly, pertain to our society now. There are more examples of human failings in this book, the trickery and cheating of the King and Duke, the lack of caring by the townspeople for Boggs, the innocence of the Wilks sisters and the lack of common sense in Tom Sawyer. There is cruelty, greed, murder, trickery, hypocrisy, racism, and a general lack of morality, all the ingredients of society.

All through the adventure you have Huck Finn and Jim trying to find the one thing they can only find on the river, freedom, but a person can only stay on the river for so long, and so you have to go on land to face the injustices of society. As you can see, Mark Twain has managed to weave his either beliefs of society or society’s beliefs in his era into these two novels. He identifies and depicts the problems with society and the individuals that either create or were created by the wrongfulness of their times.

Puddin’head Wilson, on the other hand, emphasizes more on ssues involving the slave family, and the slave community as a whole. rom Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Driscoll from Pudd’nhead Wilson are both colored characters who face completely different experiences and have distinct perspectives on slavery. Despite being black by birth, Tom Driscoll embodies the qualities of a typical white southern man Tom Driscoll’s mother, a black mistress named Roxana, decides to exchange him by her master’s son in order to protect her “nigger” son from being sold down the river. Roxy had a very fair complexion, but “the one-sixteenth of her which was black out-voted the other ifteen parts and made her a Negro.

Tom’s father was a prosperous man named Percy Northumberland, the brother of Judge York Driscoll who was the chief citizen of Dawson’s Landing. As both stories develop its actions, themes, and individual characters, an attentive reader shall readily perceive that one novel complements the other one. Through the actions of Jim, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gives its readers a better understanding of the personal trauma of a slave, while Pudd’nhead Wilson elucidates the reasons for this In Pudd’nhead Wilson slavery and society are portrayed as being the key lements behind the destruction of an individual’s self-awareness.

Roxana baby’s Chambers is partly black and she is the only one who can tell him from her master’s child, Tom Driscoll. She has seen a fear-inspiring remembrance that slaves can be disposed of at their master’s wills, and sold down the river. One day, this could be her child’s fate. In order to protect him from such destiny, and revenge the exploitation imposed by masters upon their servants, she decides to exchange the two babies in their cradles. Thus, Chambers becomes Tom (a slave master) and Tom becomes the new Chambers, a slave.

The end results are terribly harmful since her son is spoiled, corrupted, and made barbarous by the role she has given him. In fact, his behavior is nothing more than a reflection of southern aristocratic conduct. Roxana, as a result, is mistreated by her own son who sees her as nothing more than a nigger. However “the moment Tom happened to be good to her, and kind-and this occurred every now and then-all her sore places were healed and she was happy; happy and proud, for this was her son, her nigger son, lording it among the whites and securely avenging their crimes against her race”(22) ..

Nevertheless, she is ultimately sold down the river by the very son for whom she has fought the white world. After Tom discovers the truth behind his identify, he undergoes a period of mental crisis. He is incensed by the “Every now and then, after Tom went to bed, he had sudden walking out of his sleep, and his first thought was, “O, joy, it was all a dream! “…. :A nigger! -I am a nigger! -oh, I wish I was dead! “…. Why were niggers and whites made? What crime did the uncreated first nigger commit that the curse of his birth was decreed for him? And why is this awful difference made between hite and black?……

How hard the nigger’s fate seems, this morning! -yet until last night such a though never entered my head”(44). After a short period of reflection, Tom Driscoll thinks that his beliefs have changed for the better, but after a couple of days, Tom once again maltreats his colored servant. “For as much as a week after this, Tom imagined that his character had undergone a pretty radical change. But that was because he did not know himself” (45). At this point, Mark Twain seems to imply that we are all aware of the evils behind slavery, but are unwilling to do anything or the betterment of the current state of affairs in society.

Allow me to use a metaphor. Owing to his limitations, the issue of slavery though closely surrounding him, is far away from the lamp-post of his attention: it is dim, it passes by him, like a caravan of shadows, or like the landscape seen in the night from the window of an illuminated railway compartment-the passenger (Tom) knows that the slavery exists and it is wrong, but for the time being the railway carriage is far more significant. Chambers, the real Driscoll’s inheritor, becomes another tragic individual, who during slavery is often istreated by both whites and blacks.

Chambers becomes Tom’s bodyguard and the spanking bone on whom Tom unkindly discharges his frustration and rage. Pg. 36 “Tom had risen. The other young man (his brother Chambers) was trembling, now, visibly. He saw what was coming, and bent his head sideways and put up his left arm to shield it. Tom rained cuffs upon the head and its shield, saying no word…. Seven blows-then Tom said, “Face the door-March! “…. then he flung himself panting on the sofa again and rasped out the remark, “He arrived just at the right moment; I was full to the brim ith bitter thinking, and nobody to take it out of.

How refreshing it was! -I Even when Chambers saves Tom from drowning, Tom attacks him with a knife. At the end, after Chambers is reaffirmed as the legitimate inheritor of the Driscoll wealth, he cannot adjust to life in a white setting. The real heir suddenly found himself rich and free, but in a most embarrassing situation… he could neither read nor write, and his speech was the basest dialect of the negro quarter… his manners, attitudes, gestures were vulgar and uncouth. The poor fellow could not endure the terrors of the hite man’s parlor, and felt at home and at peace nowhere but in the kitchen.

He prefers the company of the slaves with whom he has identified with for over the years, but now their company is prohibited. The false heir, on the other hand, had made a full confession of his acts and was sent to jail for Thus, it is clear that an individual’s freedom is impelled by human relations with other people. Being legally freed does not save Jim from humiliation, and does not allow Chambers to gain back his selfhood. Those who contribute to the formation of a racist living society, need to first give up their deeply rooted beliefs.

Since that rarely happened, Blacks were still forced to see themselves as inferiors after being released from slavery. In Hucks’s story however, Twain gives us hope, by implying that if a person is allowed to rely on his/her own inner standards of judgment, without being influenced by society, human beings are capable of overcoming racial barriers and can then coexist in a harmonious manner. These two superb novels have the power to make its readers reevaluate their values, and beliefs regarding slavery-a word, which still haunts this world, and is one of America’s unfinished social issues.

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