Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

A slave in the pre-Civil War South was not normally someone others admired or emulated. In this lesson, we will examine the character of Jim, the slave in Mark Twain's 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'

Huck and Jim
Huck and Jim

Best Friends

Think about your best friend. Why is this person important to you? Is it the compassion he or she shows you? Is it his or her common sense that keeps you grounded? Perhaps it is the way that he or she helps you make good choices. In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim is a slave who shows compassion for Huck and creates a moral dilemma for him. He is also Twain's symbol for the anti-slavery message.

Let's examine the character of Jim.

Synopsis

A sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is meant to tell Huck's story in his own words. This novel chronicles the adventures of Huck Finn as he attempts to help his friend Jim escape from slavery. The story is set in the towns adjacent to the Mississippi River. Through the adventures of Huck and Jim, Twain gives readers a unique view of the pre-Civil War South and the hypocrisy of those who called the South their home.

While Huck Finn is the narrator and the main character in the story, it is often Jim who is controversial and widely discussed. Jim is considered a minor character, meaning that the story does not revolve around him, but he is still essential to the story in many ways.

Compassionate Loyalty

One of Jim's qualities is his compassion and loyalty to Huck. For example, his reason for escaping from his owner, Miss Watson, is to avoid being sold down the river and away from his family. His desire to be close to his family is so strong that he would risk his life to escape the possibility of being sold away from them.

Another example occurs when Jim and Huck are on the raft. Jim constructs a makeshift shelter so Huck doesn't get wet, showing Jim's desire to protect Huck. Unlike Huck's own father, who beats, insults, and uses him for his own gain, Jim treats Huck with respect and seeks to keep him safe. In fact, when Jim and Huck come across a dead body, which turns out to be Huck's Pap, Jim shields Huck from seeing the body to protect him from such a gruesome scene. Jim is almost a father figure to Huck, and understands that shielding him from hurtful things is the best choice.

When the fog becomes heavy and Huck is lost while in a canoe, Jim becomes worried and eventually assumes Huck died. When Huck returns while Jim is sleeping, he tries to convince Jim that it was all a dream. Jim figures it out and tells Huck how hurt he is by the trick.

''My heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz los', en I didn't k'yer no mo' what become er me en de raf'. En when I wake up en fine you back agin', 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.''

Huck's decision to apologize is a testament to the strong relationship between the two.

Jim's loyalty to Huck also extends to his friends. After Tom Sawyer has been shot, he tells Jim that he is a free man and can go wherever he wants. Jim, however, refuses to leave Tom until the doctor comes and he knows that Tom is safe. ''No, sah--I doan' budge a step out'n dis place 'dout a DOCTOR, not if it's forty year!'' This act is both a risk to Jim's life and freedom, and shows his complete devotion to Huck and his friends.

Superstitious Street Smarts

Jim has some interesting superstitions that add to his character, and he often uses these to give advice to Huck. For example, the bewitched charm Jim wears on his neck makes him feel like he has the power to summon witches, and the other slaves believe him as well. Another example is the hairball that he uses to conjure magic. Huck believes in this hairball, and he often asks Jim questions about his life or his future. When they are on Jackson Island, Jim uses flying birds to predict rain, and when Huck wants to kill some of them, Jim claims that chickens bring bad luck. Jim is driven by his superstitions, and Huck often follows right along with him.

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