Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
Length: 748 words (2.1 double-spaced pages)
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Jim’s evolution is a result of Twain’s “spiritual maturity.” Mark Twain falsely characterizes superstition as an African faith but, Daniel Hoffman explains that most folk lore in Huckleberry derives from European heritage. Tying your hair into knots with thread to defend against witches who ride their prey is even referenced in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Hoffman then goes on to ask and answer “Why, then does Mark Twain make such a point of having only Negroes, children and riffraff as the bearers of folk superstitions in the recreated world of his youth?” (109) He clarifies that during the time Huck Finn was composed, Twain was living far from his childhood home. His memory of Uncle Dan’l, who Mark Twain divulges in his autobiography, was the origin of Jim, and his stories are skewed by Twain’s memory. Hoffman also believes that Twain infuses his ideas on “superstition: slaves: boyhood freedom” (109) It Is grouped together due to his experiences of his youth. “The minstrel stereotype, as we have scene, was the only possible starting point for a white author attempting to deal with a Negro character a century ago,” (110) is another of Hoffman’s takes on Mr. Twain’s situation.
Daniel Hoffman speculates that Mark Twain intertwines superstition and freedom. Our first look at Huck Finn is in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when Tom sees him swinging around a dead cat. Huck and his dead cat symbolize freedom to “civilized” Tom. Freedom from manacles of society may seem ideal to Tom but, they hold a certain danger to Huck. Daniel believes the death hiding in the natural world scares Huckleberry and makes him long to control it. “For Huck, the omens are an acknowledgement of the fact of death.” (102) While Huck can try to dominate these powers in nature he is only a student compared to Jim. During the course of the book Jim comes from a man controlled by his fear of witches to controlling evils. With Jim’s power to predict the future he becomes more liberated.
He finds strength in foreseeing death. Hoffman concludes that Jim’s power derives from the river and he only wields this power on the raft alone with Huck Finn. “The river god is indifferent to humanity: he runs on uncontaminated by the evils along his shores; asserting now and then in dominance and power over ‘the damned human race.’” (105) When they land on the shore or the Duke and King join them Jim loses his mystical powers. Huck returns to the care giver role. Jim is also able to cure the snakebite illustrating his dominance as a medicine man over the universe. Even during his captivity he holds on to the belief that he controls black magic. Jim sinks farther from his minstrel stereotype through his use of his black magic and freedom. He often passes his knowledge onto Huck Finn.
Jim’s knowledge of folk lore helps him to protect Huck. When the “House of Death” floats by Jim is first to explore the wreckage and finds Pap’s body. He shelters Huckleberry from this horrific truth. Hoffman implies that this knowledge allows Jim to assume the role of Huck’s father. Huck also takes on the role of Jim’s son by protecting him. “Huck now realizes that he is bound to Jim by ties too strong for mischievous trifling, ties so strong that he must break the strongest mores of the society he was raised in to acknowledge.” (105) Huck’s discovery of his genuine love for Jim causes him to defy society for his “fathers” well being. Though many believe Jim and Huck’s relationship is degrading to African Americans it is purely a father-son bond.
Mark Twain according to Hoffman wants Huck Finn and Jim to have liberty through their morals not freedom in society. Daniel Hoffman considers Jim’s legal emancipation as a step back from his heroism. While Jim resorts back to his former self, “grateful to the young white boss,” (111) Huckleberry plans to run from society again. Both men go through obstacles but both only find the “equivocal freedom of status.” (111)