Who is Jim, and what is Twain's intent by introducing him in a typical American home in Missouri?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jim is a slave belonging to Miss Watson. As the story progresses, he becomes a more important character, playing a key part in Huckleberry Finn's numerous adventures. On their lengthy journey down the Mississippi River, he will act as a kind of mentor to Huck, imbuing him with the kind of folk wisdom which the young boy otherwise wouldn't learn if he stayed behind in St. Petersburg.

Primarily, Twain introduces the character of Jim to highlight one of the major themes of the story: the gap between how so-called civilized society sees itself and the often sordid reality beneath the genteel surface. The good folk of St. Petersburg, including Miss Watson, see themselves as the epitome of all that's decent and civilized. Certainly, no one would deny that Miss Watson is herself a fine, respectable lady, a genuinely good person.

And yet, through her ownership of slaves like Jim, she is perpetuating an evil system based on cruelty and exploitation. This theme will be further developed later on in the story when Huck winds up at the Grangerfords' estate. This wealthy Southern family also appear to be the epitome of respectability, and yet, like Miss Watson, they own a number of slaves, which calls into question their civilized self-image.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial