Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2311
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 2
As soon as Tom was back we cut along the path, around the garden fence, and by and by fetched up on the steep top of the hill the other side of the house. Tom said he slipped Jim's hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over him, and Jim stirred a little, but he didn't wake. Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the state, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and, after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by and by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, “Hm! What you know 'bout witches?” and that nigger was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn't touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.
Huck, bored and lonely at the widow’s home, takes off in the night with Tom Sawyer, looking for some adventures. They come across Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, asleep under a tree. Knowing how superstitious Jim is, Tom decides to play a prank on the slave. He removes his hat and hangs it on a nearby tree. When Jim wakes up and sees his hat, he is convinced that it was witches who put it there. In the future, he makes up a wild tale in which he was transported all across the state in a trance and then returned to the tree where the witches hung up his hat. He later elaborates it further, stating that he was carried down to New Orleans, and then even further until at last his account includes a trip clear around the world. His supposed encounter with witches then gives Jim a new sense of importance around the slave community, which he relishes. Huck proclaims that Jim was almost ruined as a servant because he became so proud of having seen the devil and ridden with witches. Jim’s gullibility and superstitious nature thus are set up for further development in the rest of the story.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 15
It had clouded up pretty dark just after I got on to the raft, but it was clearing up again now.
“Oh, well, that's all interpreted well enough as far as it goes, Jim,” I says; “but what does these things stand for?”
It was the leaves and rubbish on the raft and the smashed oar. You could see them first-rate now.
Jim looked at the trash, and then looked at me, and back at the trash again. He had got the dream fixed so strong in his head that he couldn't seem to shake it loose and get the facts back into its place again right away. But when he did get the thing straightened around he looked at me steady without ever smiling, and says:
“What do dey stan' for? I'se gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, 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, en I could 'a' got down on my knees en kiss yo' foot, I's so thankful. 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.”
Then he got up slow and walked to the wigwam, and went in there without saying anything but that. But that was enough. It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back.
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. 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.
Huck and Jim are traveling down the Mississippi, intending to reach Cairo, Illinois, and then head up the Ohio River to the northern states and freedom. However, a dense fog arises, and Jim and the raft drift from the bank, stranding Huck on shore. When the fog clears, Huck finds the raft and quietly sneaks on board, surprising Jim. Huck, however, still taking advantage of Jim’s gullibility, convinces him that he had been on the raft the whole time. However, when Jim spots the leaves and twigs on the raft, he realizes that Huck has tricked him. Jim does not see this as an innocent prank, but as a hurtful lie from someone whom he had trusted. In a show of humility, Huck eventually apologizes to Jim for having lied and vows that he will not play any more mean tricks on him.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 23
I went to sleep, and Jim didn't call me when it was my turn. He often done that. When I waked up just at daybreak he was sitting there with his head down betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself. I didn't take notice nor let on. I knowed what it was about. 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. 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 s'pec I ain't ever gwyne to see you no mo', no mo'!” He was a mighty good nigger, Jim was.
But this time I somehow got to talking to him about his wife and young ones; and by and by he says:
“What makes me feel so bad dis time 'uz bekase I hear sumpn over yonder on de bank like a whack, er a slam, while ago, en it mine me er de time I treat my little 'Lizabeth so ornery. She warn't on'y 'bout fo' year ole, en she tuck de sk'yarlet fever, en had a powful rough spell; but she got well, en one day she was a-stannin' aroun', en I says to her, I says:
“‘Shet de do’.'
“She never done it; jis' stood dah, kiner smilin' up at me. It make me mad; en I says ag'in, mighty loud, I says:
“‘Doan’ you hear me? Shet de do'!'
“She jis stood de same way, kiner smilin' up. I was a-bilin'! I says:
“‘I lay I make you mine!’
“En wid dat I fetch' her a slap side de head dat sont her a-sprawlin'. Den I went into de yuther room, en 'uz gone 'bout ten minutes; en when I come back dah was dat do' a-stannin' open yit, en dat chile stannin' mos' right in it, alookin' down and mournin', en de tears runnin' down. My, but I wuzmad! I was a-gwyne for de chile, but jis' den—it was a do' dat open innerds—jis' den, 'long come de wind en slam it to, behine de chile, ker-blam!—en my lan', de chile never move'! My breff mos' hop outer me; en I feel so—so—I doan' know howI feel. I crope out, all a-tremblin', en crope aroun' en open de do' easy en slow, en poke my head in behine de chile, sof' en still, en all uv a sudden I says pow! jis' as loud as I could yell. She never budge! Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin' en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po' ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long's he live!' Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb—en I'd ben a-treat'n her so!”
Jim and Huck, now accompanied by two men who present themselves as a king and a duke, involve the two travelers in their conniving schemes to swindle money from the townspeople along the river. Jim is not impressed by his first run-in with royalty, declaring that they must all be “rapscallions,” and not to be trusted. He is disturbed by their dishonesty, as he was disturbed by Huck’s lying to him previously as a prank. Jim tells Huck about his family, whom he intends to buy into freedom once he escapes to the north. His sensitivity is revealed as he transparently tells a story that puts him in a negative light. His daughter, Elizabeth, was a one-year-old when she contracted scarlet fever. One day, after she recovered, he told her to shut the door. The child seemed to completely ignore his repeated commands, so he slapped her on the side of her head. Later, when she is still crying, Jim prepares to discipline her further when the door slams shut in the wind. Elizabeth does not even flinch, and then Jim realizes that she is deaf. His shame and grief for his unintended cruelty to his daughter still haunts him.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is frequently criticized as a racist work, Mark Twain in fact uses the character of Jim to rewrite—to unwrite—negative representations of African Americans in literature. Through the eyes of Huck, Jim moves from being a racial stereotype of the Negro slave toward being an actual human being, someone with depths of character and a sensitive nature. Jim can thus arguably be described as the beginning of a more realistic, nuanced portrayal of African American characters in American literature.
Here is how Twain develops his portrayal of Jim. In the beginning of the novel, Jim is a pure caricature of the type that epitomized the Jim Crow years after the Civil War. His deep superstitions and over-the-top gestures make him a comic figure and the butt of Tom Sawyer's and Huck Finn’s practical jokes. Tom Sawyer represents the ignorant white view of the time period, while Huck shows the beginnings of a more modern sensitivity, taking less sport in pranking Jim than Tom does. Yet even Huck at this point still sees Jim simply as a slave; the idea of Jim being a real person has not yet occurred to Huck. It is only as the pair go down the river, engaging in meaningful conversation and mutual support, that Huck’s views change.
When Jim is hurt by Huck’s lying to him, the boy begins to see the full depth of Jim’s personality. He understands that Jim has been genuinely grieving and worrying about him. Jim is a true friend, although this level of friendship is yet beyond Huck's conception. The light begins to dawn, however, and though it takes some time, Huck does manage to humble himself and apologize to Jim.
Twain could very well have portrayed Jim as a flawless, angelic, “Uncle Tom” type of person, incapable of being mean-spirited. Yet Jim is honest with Huck when he tells about his daughter, Elizabeth. The short-temperedness of the normal parent is portrayed as Jim disciplines his young daughter for disobedience. Yet the obvious heartbrokenness of Jim as he realizes that his child is deaf and that he has beaten her without cause reveals his humanity.
Twain is adept at pulling the nineteenth-century reader to a new level of understanding. Rather than immediately portraying Jim “as good as a white man,” he starts where the average reader of the time was, gradually showing more and more of Jim's humanity. Long before it is revealed that Miss Watson freed him, ironically making him a free man for most of the trip, Twain frees Jim from the chains of the stereotype to make him an equal of Huck Finn, capable of the full range of emotions, thoughts, and dreams as any white man. Ultimately, Twain's novel advances the steady, though agonizingly slow, march toward civil rights in the twentieth century.
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