You Dont Know MeIn Chapter 1 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck spoke for Mark Twainwhen he made the statement, You dont know about me…but that aint no matter. TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finn was not a sequel to his other adventure stories but aliterary statement questioning how civilized our American society really was. Twain wasnot a racist but a realist. The perception of racism in the novel should be attributed to thehistorical setting and the effect it had on its characters. The story took place in the Southbefore the Civil War. The Souths economic structure depended on keeping the Negro inservitude. Many white Americans accepted slavery and believed the Negroes were inferiorwhich resulted in racist attitudes and behaviors. Twain used the character development ofJim and Huck to demonstrate how these attitudes could change once Huck was able to seepast the cultural stereotype of Jim being a Negro and recognize he was a person who wasboth noble and decent and deserved to be free like any other man whether he was black orwhite.
Twains early development of the character Jim has been controversial because ofthe apparent racism. In the early chapters, Jim was portrayed as a typical slave stereotype: superstitious, ignorant, and naive. On two separate occasions Huck delighted inexploiting Jims superstitious beliefs to play a joke on him. In Chapter 10, Huck put adead snake in Jims blanket after Jim had warned him that, it was the worse luck in theworld to touch a snakeskin. Then Huck realized Jim wasnt really the fool he thoughthim to be when the dead rattlesnakes mate returned and bit Jim. Huck felt bad. Huckplayed his last trick on Jim after they passed Cairo and got separated by the currents. Atfirst, Huck thought it was funny to pretend that they had never been separated, but he washumbled by Jims reactions which showed both dignity and his strong sense of value. Hucks viewpoint of Jim was changing, but his former upbringing was evident when heopenly admitted, It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to and humblemyself to a nigger.
It was statements like this that have made many dispute Twains intentions. Did hehave to use the word nigger over two hundred times? Throughout The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn, Twain used dialect and the word nigger. The use of the word wasnot purely racist, since it was not used in a derogatory manner but as a term meaning blackperson. The real racism was in the way the characters viewed niggers. After thesteamboat explosion in Chapter 32 Aunt Sally said, Good gracious! anybody hurt? Then Huck casually replied, Nom. Killed a nigger. Relieved Aunt Sally said, Well itslucky; because sometimes people do get hurt. Twain was being ironic and wanted hisreader to see the real truth behind the Southern perception of humanity. Neitherconsidered the death of a Negro worth noting.
As the novel progressed, Huck had to wrestle with the former values instilled inhim by this culture. During Huck and Jims adventures down the river, Huck learned thereal difference between hypocrisy and prejudice and friendship and values. The senselesskilling between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons made him question civilized waysthat perpetuated a feud where basically good people foolishly follow old customs ratherthan changing tradition. Huck was further angered that a whole town could be duped bythe king and duke. The town symbolized society. Even though some of the townspeopledisagreed with the king when he inhumanly separated and sold the Wilks familys slaves,no one interfered. Although many could interpret this incident as racist, Twain used thisincident to show how Hucks viewpoint and values had changed. Huck realized that Jimand other niggers were not just someone elses property but human beings and shouldbe treated accordingly.
Twain was not a racist. Throughout the book, he did not make one derogatoryremark about the black people but instead characterized some of the members of thecivilized society which had enslaved them to be religious zealots and hypocrites, fools andliars, robbers and murderers, and rogues and scoundrels. Twain had satirized the pre-civilwar American society and its institutions to make his reader question their present actions. If the reading public had taken a closer look at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, theywould have realized it directly opposed the current Jim Crow laws. Twain hadpurposefully denied that there was a moral or motive in the story fearing they would notsee his point or would turn him off like Huck and Toms friends did when Tom Sawyeroutlined the rules he found in adventure books. Instead, Twain hoped his reader wouldview the world through Hucks eyes to realize if they were open and honest they toowould be able to do what was right. Then they could develop a deeper understanding orsympathy for other human beings and be able to recognize racism.