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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain
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How does Jim's story about his daughter 'Lizabeth alter the way Huck thinks about Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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We're not told specifically how Jim's story of 'Lizabeth changes Huck's view of Jim. The story Jim tells is about his daughter 'Lizabeth recovering after a bout of scarlet fever. Jim gets angry at her and knocks her down when, after she is well, she won't respond to his commands. Then he realizes she is not complying because the scarlet fever has left her deaf. Jim feels an outpouring of remorse for having struck her and expresses his deep compassion for her.

We do know, however, that Huck is beginning to see Jim more as a human being and less as a slave, because he draws Jim out to talk about his family. Huck overhears Jim lamenting the loss of his family:

He was often moaning and mourning that way nights, when he judged I was asleep, and saying, “Po’ little ’Lizabeth! po’ little Johnny! it’s mighty hard; I spec’ I ain’t ever gwyne to see you no mo’, no mo’!”

Huck believes that Jim's grief and longing show he is a good man. He thinks:

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.

This statement shows that Huck is beginning to think and reason for himself and break away from the social conditioning that has taught him all his life that slaves are not quite human.

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This episode occurs in Chapter 23, and it is clear from the text that hearing Jim talk about his family has a massive impact on Huck, as it helps him to take another step towards seeing Jim as less of a slave and more of a human being who is exactly like Huck, even though he has a different skin colour. Note, for example, what Huck says about Jim in the following quote:

...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.

This may seem incredibly bizarre to the modern day reader, but it must be remembered that at the time in which this novel was set, the selling of slaves and the separation of mothers and their children and even of husbands and their wives was "justified" by arguing that slaves did not experience love and family bonds in the same way that whites did, and therefore it was alright. Huck makes another very crucial step towards challenging the overwhelming racial stereotypes of his day at this point in the novel, which will culminate in his final decision to risk going to hell rather than let Jim return to captivity.

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