The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has two key characters, one is the slave Jim, the other; the protagonist Huck. Jim and Huck could each be considered the key characters for different reasons, Jim as he is the main representative of the typical slave (slavery being the most important theme of this novel) and Huck for he is the main storyteller. Jim is an important character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and without him the novel would be ineffectual.
However The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about the adventures of the protagonist Huck, and it is more likely that the key character of this novel is Huck because we see everything from his view. In a novel which is written as a satiric social comment upon the southern states of America Jim’s role as the manifestation of slavery must be a key one. Incidents in which Jim interacts with other characters and their reactions to him are meant to symbolise the wider society’s opinions on slaves and the practice of slavery.
Jim, is a heroic figure in a book whose main characters consist of liars, cheats and scoundrels. Jim always does the right thing if he can, he always feels empathy for others even if those people show no such emotions for him. The incident at the end of the novel when he saves Tom and risks what he believes to be his own freedom is a case in point. We empathise with Jim because even though other characters suggest that his feelings are least important, whose life is lesser, whose existence is trivial, he manages to stay cheerful, and even kind to those who treat him in this manner.
This quality makes him even more heroic, for he is a figure who turns the other cheek, and is kind to others no matter what. Jim doesn’t lie or cheat, or steal or gamble and looks down on these activities. Jim is never bitter, he never complains, and never expects Huck to return or even notice what he does for him. However this is no to say that Huck is not heroic himself, his support for Jim, a black man, who Huck has been taught is inferior and as important as a pack horse is astounding, and displays that Huck is strong enough and heroic enough to make the harder choice and choose his heart over his conscience.
An example of Huck choosing his heart occurs just after Jim has been sold by the King and the Duke for forty dollars, Huck believes he has been forced to make a choice between Jim and heaven. He chooses Jim with the words ” All right then, I’ll go to hell”. It is Jim’s escape and the subsequent threat of his re-capture that provides the reason for himself and Huck to leave the island and travel down the river where most of their adventures occur.
Without Jim Twain would lack a reason for Huck to travel down the river and experience what he experiences, without Jim this would be little more than a story about a boy who fakes his own death, and then lives on an island. Add to this the fact that Jim is the leader during the travel down the river. He is the one who knows all the signs of weather, either good or bad, it is he who makes their journey its success and ensures their lives. Jim is the maturest out of himself and Huck.
Huck’s immaturity is shown when he puts the rattlesnake in Jim’s sleeping bag, or when he plays a trick on Jim during the fog. Jim’s maturity is displayed by his reaction to the incident when Huck plays a trick on him during the fog. Without Jim the novel would be innefectual because Huck’s development would be stunted without him. One prime example of Jim’s importance occurs when Huck comes closer to fully realising that Jim is a real person too and the colour of his skin does not diminish his humanity.
Huck has realised that Jim is a human and that he should not play tricks on him or regard him as stupid, around the end of the novel Huck says “I knowed he was white inside”, Huck is expresing his realisation that Jim is a human in the only way he knows through making Jim white. Huck’s realisation is well brought across to us just after he has hidden in the fog, and returned to Jim, Jim works out that Huck is trying to trick him and reacts very badly to Huck’s prank. Huck then says. t was fifteen minutes before I could work myself to humble to a nigger- but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d knowed it would make him feel that way’. Huck and Jim have a symbiotic relationship, they need each other Huck needs Jim to remain dynamic and keep our attention, and Jim needs Huck to justify his presence in the novel. Jim’s effect on Huck is huge it is through Jim that Huck begins to learn about how the colour of skin does not alter the person inside.
An example of this occurs when Huck says ” and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n “. Huck justifies Jim’s existence as a character of substance in this novel, for through helping Huck and caring for him, Jim is makes an impact on the reader, and hence makes his position in the novel as one of it’s main characters more tenable. However while it is obviously true that Jim teaches Huck he is not Huck’s only teacher, several other characters such as Pap and Tom also teach Huck valuable lessons.
One example of Huck being taught by someone other than Jim occurs when Huck says “If I never learnt nothin else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way. ” It is through Huck and his reactions to various events that Twain passes on his opinions to the reader. Huck is a character through which the author, in Twain puts across his point of view, for example Huck’s realisation that Jim is also a human and also important. Twain is trying to get this message across to the public. Huck is a representation of the common person at the beginning of the novel.
He is white, uneducated, simple, and not willing to think about what he is told just willing to accept it. Huck’s realisations about right and wrong, and importantly his own ability to determine this for himself are drawn out and argued logically inside a story which will hold the readers attention. Through Huck Twain frames all the key issues of freedom, racism and slavery, personal integrity and social rebellion against social attitudes of the period. This occurs when Huck interacts with key characters who are representative of a theme or an idea being presented by Twain.
For example his interaction with Tom who represents conventional social attitudes, as the novel progresses Huck is less inclined to accept what Tom says or does as correct. One example of this occurs when Huck quits Tom Sawyers band of thieves, he no longer agrees with Tom, and many of Tom’s imagined incidents such as that of rading the summer school picnic no longer hold any credence with Huck. This moving away from Tom and what he represents, is an indication of Twain’s rejection of conventional social values.
Jim is the symbolic representation of only one of these points of discussion, slavery. Jim is only a part of that whole because he represents only one of the themes that Twain is discussing in this novel. Unlike Huck, Jim is not the one who reveals the author’s opinions through his actions and reactions he is merely representative of one of these ideas. Without Huck’s presence the novel lacks a unifying element. Jim is unable to fill the void in this regard as he is a relatively static character who does not change.
This is unlike the dynamic Huck who changes some of his opinions and learns about many things ranging from serious issues such as slavery to simpler things such as to how to discern what the weather will be. The most important factor that leads me to argue that Huck is the protagonist comes from the fact that the whole novel is told in first person. It is Huck’s views not Jim’s that we get, it is his outlook that colours our opinion, and most importantly his vernacular we read. In fact Jim himself is seen through Huck’s eyes, with Huck’s opinion colouring our own.
Huck is omnipresent, this is not so with Jim he continuously disappears when it does not serve Twain to have him in the episode. Debates inside Huck’s mind, the incident when Huck plays a trick on Jim during the fog, and even the whole Shepardson, Grangerford incident are lacking the presence of Jim. When Huck meets the Shepardsons and the Grangerfords, for example Jim magically disappears into the bushes to repair the raft. Huck is in every moment of the novel, and other characters are merely there because they interact with Huck, Jim is no exception.
Jim is an extremely important character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Jim represents slavery the major theme of the novel, is forgiving, and kind, however this makes him a heroic character, not the key character. Huck on the other hand is the key character by virtue of his predominance throughout the book, he is on every page, and every line and unlike Jim he is the character who reveals and in effect discusses issues through his reactions, action and interaction with other characters. Hence it is fair and logical to conclude that although important Jim is not the key character of the novel, that honour must go to Huck.