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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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How is Jim's character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a poor representation of African Americans?

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The poor representation of African Americans at the time of Mark Twain's writing of his classic novel, is only in the perception of the white characters. For, Twain's representation of Jim is as of the most human of all the characters, a loving, unselfish, sensitive, and wise, albeit unworldly, man. As a Realist, Twain, of course, employs language with all his characterizations that is representative of the time period of his narrative, but this Realism is not a poor presentation of African Americans; instead, Twain strives to dispel the prejudical attitudes of his time and portray the true humanity of these people. For, instance, Huck originally does not perceive Jim as a real man. In Chapter 23 when Huck awakens and finds Jim crying about his family that he misses, Huck is amazed,

When I waked up just at daybreak he was sitting there with his head down betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself....He was thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn’t ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.

Earlier in the novel, Huck listens to Jim speak of King Solomon in Chapter 14. While Jim speaks poorly and is obviously unworldly and ignorant of more sophisticated thinking such as that of Solomon's reason for pretending that he would cut a baby in half, there is clearly sound reasoning in his judgments about a man having a harem:

"En I reck'n de wives quarrels considable....Yit dey say Sollermun de wises' man dat ever live'. I doan' take no stock in dat. Bekase why would a wise man want to live in de mids' er sich a blim-blammin' all de time?...A wise man 'ud take en buil' a biler-factry; en den he could shet down de biler-factry when he want to res'.”

Later in this chapter, however, Jim does not understand anything that the king and the duke say to him, and Huck remarks on Jim's ignorance. Now, while this seems cruel on the part of the author and the character Huck, it is simply realistic. And, then in Chapter 15, when Huck and Jim are separated in the fog as Pip tries to return to the raft, which has drifted off, Huck finally finds his way to the raft. When Jim wakes up, Huck pretends that he has always been there and Jim has simply dreamed that they were separated.  This confuses Jim, who tries to "interpret the dream." Then, he tells Huck how upset he was, 

"my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz los', en I didn' k'yer no' mo' what become er me en de raf'. En when I wake up en fine you back ag'in, all safe en soun', de tears come...I's so thankful."

But, when he learns that Huck has lied, he wisely scolds the boy:

"En all you wuz thinkin' 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed.”

"It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n---," Huck says, but he finally apologizes and does not regret doing so because he is ashamed about hurting Jim. Clearly, here, Huck begins to recognize Jim as a man deserving of the same respect that he would expect.

I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd 'a' knowed it would make him feel that way.

In the end, Huck decides to just "go to hell" by refusing to turn in his beloved friend Jim as a runaway.

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