19 March, 2010
Legality vs. Morality
Racism plays a large factor in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck is faced with many challenges within himself with helping Jim be free or turning him in. Set in the Mississippi Valley “forty or fifty years ago”, as the novel’s subtitle declares, Huckleberry Finn responds to the failure of Reconstruction by retelling the story of slavery from the point of view of a young white runaway whose fate becomes intertwined with that of an adult black fugitive. Huck faces the question of whether he should obey the law and turn in Jim, or if he should risk a bad reputation and keep his friend happy.
Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished, he set it several decades earlier, when slavery was still a fact of life. But even by Twain’s time, things had not necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. In this light, we might read Twain’s depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery places the noble and moral Jim under the control of white society, no matter how degraded that white society may be, so too did the insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain, by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed. The result is a world of moral confusion, in which seemingly “good” white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps express no concern about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family. Tom told me what his plan was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides. So I was satisfied, and said we would waltz in on...