The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the best-loved novels in American literature. Due to its widespread popularity, critiques and analyses of the work abound, especially of Huck and his development. But in all the analyses of Huck, scholars and students alike have neglected to give rightful place to one of the most important protagonists in American literature–Jim. Without Jim’s provision for Huck, Huck’s spiritual journey would have failed. In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim plays the role of a father to Huck by providing for his physical, emotional, and moral well-being. Jim plays the role of the father by providing for Huck’s physical well-being.
He first provides food and shelter for the runaway boy. Jim is continually catching fish and fixing meals for Huck. He takes it upon himself to build “a snug wigwam on the raft to get under in blazing weather and rainy” (48). In contrast, when Huck is at his father’s cabin, he has to stop up the holes “to keep the wind from blowing through the chinks and putting the candle out” (18-19).
Jim also provides advice for Huck. From the very beginning of the novel when he sees his father’s boot prints, Huck establishes a precedent of going to Jim for advice. Despite the slave’s fearful superstitions, his advice is mostly sound, as seen when he advises against boarding the Walter Scott. Lastly, Jim provides for Huck’s physical well-being by providing protection for him. He passively protects Huck from the different people in society by having the raft ready to escape back to the protection of the river.
Also, Jim actively protects Huck by lying to the King and Duke for him after they catch up with him on the river and threaten him. While Huck had no one to protect him before, now he has Jim to stand up for him against people that are like Pap, as a father should. Although Jim’s ability to protect him is limited because of his status as a black slave, he protects him as best he can. Jim also plays the role of the father by providing for Huck’s emotional well-being. He provides physical affection for the boy. One of the memories that causes Huck to make his final decision to help free Jim is that of how Jim would “always call him honey, and pet him” (161).
This was a welcome change to the lonely boy who had only abuse and whippings from his real father and scolding from the widow and Miss Watson. Jim also provides friendship for Huck. Before Jim, Huck never had any true friends. Although Tom comes the closest, he consistently degrades Huck and puts his ideas down. When Huck tries to “be his true friend” (176) and discourage him from freeing Jim and embarrassing himself and his family, Tom replies by “shutting him up, and saying, `Don’t you reckon I know what I’m about? Don’t I generly know what I’m about?'” (176). Again, when Huck has a sensible idea regarding how to free Jim, Huck puts him down with, “Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, if I was as ignorant as you, I’d keep still” (182).
In contrast, Huck has free and easy conversation with Jim. Another one of Huck’s memories at his crucial decision point is of when he and Jim were “a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing” (161). Huck can talk freely of history, nature, and ethics to Jim. While Pap considers his education “hifalut’n foolishness” (15), Jim eagerly listens to him when he “read considerable . . .
about kings, and dukes, and earls, and such” (57). This opening up of himself is an important development for a boy who has little conversation recorded previously. Despite the fact he narrates the whole story, Huck does not talk much at all except for when he is with Jim. Indeed, there is no reason for him to talk. Whenever he tried, his father abused him, Miss Watson scolded him, and Tom mocked him.
Huck’s reaction to Jim being sold by the Duke and the King reveals the depth of their friendship. Instead of being relieved at not having to make the moral decision of whether or not to free Jim, he “set down and cried” (159). Lastly, Jim plays the role of the father by providing for Huck’s moral well-being. Jim provides the moral rule against which different situations are measured. Jim’s integrity stands in sharp contrast with the corruption of the outside world.
His remorse over hitting his deaf and dumb child occurs right before the Duke poses as a deaf mute to get the Wilks’ money. The reality of his daughter’s plight makes the duplicity and greediness of the two men even more despicable. It is “through Jim’s sensitivity that the entire Wilks episode is thrown into much more precise focus” (Cox 73). Also, Twain portrays Jim’s judgment of situations as the correct moral view. It is Jim that exposes the meanness of Huck’s joke after the night of the fog.
It is once again Jim that sees that the Duke and the King “reglar rapscallions” (116). Jim also provides the moral motivation for Huck to make the right decisions. Adams argues that “Jim’s function . . . has been to test . . . Huck’s growing moral strength and mature independence” (Adams 92).
But a closer look at the novel reveals that Jim himself provides Huck’s moral strength. When Huck mockingly asks him to interpret the meaning of the trash on the raft, “rather than taking each item of debris and divining its meaning as Huck requests, Jim takes each act of kindness and concern he has shown Huck Finn over the course of their journey and defines for the boy, perhaps for the first time in Huck’s life, the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and filial or family responsibility.” (Chadwick-Joshua 56). By apologizing to the slave, Huck was not only accepting Jim as his friend, but he was also accepting his moral values. It is Huck’s friendship with Jim that “makes possible his moral growth” (Cox 73). Jim’s comment, “you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now” (67), when Huck is paddling off to turn him in, stops Huck and forces him to decide in favor of Jim.
The memory of Jim’s friendship keeps Huck on the right track. When Huck remembers their friendship, “and couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me Huck against him, but only the other kind” (161), he makes the decision to “go to hell” (162). But does the ending negate all the growth that has gone before? Marx asserts that the ending “jeopardizes the significance of the entire novel” (Marx 54). But upon closer examination, the end of the story really highlights the importance of Jim. It is Jim’s moral motivation and friendship throughout all the preceding chapters that causes Huck to stay true to his original decision to free the slave.
It is true that Huck tries to discourage Tom from freeing Jim. But if he had not, he would have been rejecting all of Jim’s teachings about loyalty and friendship. Huck had to “be his true friend, and let him quit the thing right where he was, and save himself” (176). Huck could not let his friend damn his soul to a real hell–as he thought he had–without protest.
As Jim provides for Huck’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, he takes on the role of a father. Because of the importance of this role, Jim becomes the real hero of the story, rather than just an oppressed and insignificant black slave. He is “the true visionary center of the novel” (Chadwick-Joshua xx). Without Jim, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be merely a simple action story, and not what it is, a great novel about humanity. ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Adams, Richard P.
“The Unity and Coherence of Huckleberry Finn.” Marks 82-94. As the title indicates, Adams focuses on the unity of the novel as a whole. He defines the theme as “the growth of an individual personality” (94), namely Huck. According to Adams, Huck Finn is separated into three distinct units by Huck’s decisions to help free Jim. Adams also discusses different themes, such as the rebirth pattern, and how they support the unity of the book.
This selection is an excellent source to help understand the work as a whole. Unfortunately, it does not contain much on the actual character of Jim. Chadwick-Joshua, Jocelyn. The Jim Dilemma.
- Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1998. NetLibrary. 1 April 2003. <http://emedia.netlibrary.com/reader/reader.asp?product_id=4684>. Cox, James M. “Remarks on the Sad Initiation of Huckleberry Finn.” Marks 65-74.
- This essay discusses the significance of the role Tom Sawyer plays in the novel. Cox analyzes Huck’s initiation into society, comparing and contrasting it to Tom’s initiation into society in Twain’s previous novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Cox finishes the essay by discussing the role of Jim in relation to Huck’s moral values and emotions. This source offers valuable insights into the role of Jim as “the central figure of the book” (73). Marks, Barry A. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
- Boston: D.C. Heath, 1959. Marx, Leo. “Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn.” Marks 53-64.
- Trilling, Lionel. “The Greatness of Huckleberry Finn.” Marks 44-52. Trilling discusses the greatness of the novel in its “truth of moral passion” (45). He places a great deal of importance on the river as a god. He also emphasizes Huck’s moral virtues. The only negative comment is about the length of the ending, but other than that, Trilling gives a whole-hearted endorsement of Huckleberry Finn.
- This essay provides a few good observations regarding Huck and Jim, but on the whole, it lacks a critical edge. Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Dover, 1994