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Mark Twain and His Views on Slavery

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    Today, it would be considered taboo and a probable moral violation if one thought that slavery were acceptable. Can you imagine owning another human being and having legal dominion over them? Can you imagine tearing apart families and watching another person suffer? In the 1800s, this way of life was not only practiced by many residents of the southern states, but it was widely accepted as a normal way of life. Many people owned slaves because they needed more workers on their farms. Some would argue that slavery was crucial to the economy. Many people supported slavery because they wanted to make money. However, slavery was wrong in many ways, it dehumanized the enslaved, slaves faced harsh conditions, they were denied an education, and it violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

    Mark Twain wrote the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to reveal the horrors and cruelty of slavery. This book has often been the target for censorship. Many believed that his use of the word “nigger” was racist and derogatory. However, Twain was using the standard language during this time. Twain’s overall message was definitely anti-slavery. This novel was also written to prove that slaves were humans and not property. Jim was a slave, most characters viewed him as property and nothing else. Many people believed slaves did not have feelings, therefore they were not human. However, Twain characterized Jim as a compassionate, trusting, and intelligent person. These character traits contradicted the stereotypes of slaves during this time.

    Twain also created a friendship between Huck and Jim, this friendship was extraordinary because it was between a black and white person. Twain created this friendship to present the idea that people should not be judged based off their skin color. Huck saw Jim as his equal and as a father-figure, Huck said “I knowed he was white inside…”. When Huck and Jim came across the floating house they discovered a dead man, Jim said to Huck “Don’t look at his face” because “It’s awful.” This was a very thoughtful thing to do because the dead man turned out to be Huck’s dad, Pap Finn. Over the course of the story Jim and many other slaves faced hardships such as abuse and inhumane treatment.

    Slavery dehumanized the enslaved and made them feel inferior. Slaves were forced to obey their owners, they were treated like animals, and they were inhumanely ripped away from their families. Slave owners controlled every aspect of the slaves lives, including where they lived and what they ate. Many slaves had to build railroads, harvest crops, clean the homes, and take care of their owners children. Disobedience resulted in punishment, common punishments were whipping, burning, raping, and torturing. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Jim was viewed as a possession and as a monster. At one point some of the characters said “we can tie Jim’s hands and feet with a rope…”. Jim was tied up like he was some wild beast. Slaves were sold and traded as if they were livestock. Slaves were given prices based on their overall health.

    “They put us in separate parcels, and examined us attentively.” Livestock and slaves are both examined to make sure they are healthy enough to work. The lack of freedom made many slaves feel as if they were an animal trapped in a cage. Slaves were often separated from their mothers at a very young age. Frederick Douglass believes the purpose was to “’hinder the development of the child’s affection towards its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child.” Can you imagine getting torn away from your mother and never seeing her again? This happened in Huckleberry Finn, “The slaves were being sold immediately- the two sons were sold to a family living up the river in Memphis, Tennessee, and their mother was sold down the river to New Orleans.” The act of dehumanization made many slaves feel inferior and useless.

    Slaves had to live through extremely severe conditions. After being ripped away from their homes they were brought to America by ships. The trips across the Atlantic usually lasted several months. These months were filled with misery, Africans were packed on top of one another and given little room to move. Most ships carried over four hundred slaves. These conditions forced the Africans to perform bodily functions right where they laid. The air on the ships was foul, the lack of cleanliness meant there was always a threat of disease. In fact “Sickness spread quickly through the crowded and filthy quarters, and many slaves died from severe diarrhea, smallpox, fevers, or scurvy.” On top of the poor hygiene the slaves were beat and raped. This drove many people to suicide, suicide attempts took place daily. Many slaves would throw themselves overboard, while others would get ahold of knives and guns. After the transportation they arrived on their plantations.

    Here they were forced to work unbearable hours while being treated like wild animals. They worked in all types of weather and continued working even if they were sick or injured. If slaves did not work to their fullest potential they were beat, Moses Roper says “He then had my feet put on an anvil, and ordered a man to beat my toes, till he smashed some nails off. The marks of this treatment still remain upon me, my nails never having grown perfect since.” Many slaves were malnourished due to the neglect of their owners. Their owners didn’t want to spend too much money on food so they fed them once or twice a day. As a result many slaves were more susceptible to diseases such as dysentery, cholera, and tuberculosis. Overall these harsh conditions affected the slaves both physically and mentally.

    “Some know the value of education by having it. I know it’s value by not having it.” said Frederick Douglass. According to Antonio Bly only 5% of slaves were able to read and write. Twain proves to us that slaves did not receive an education by making Jim use phrases like “De bes’ way is to res’ easy en let de ole man take his own way.” and “You’s gwyne to marry de po’ one fust en de rich one by en by.” Many slaves did not receive an education because their owners were scared they would escape. They also feared that once a slave was educated they would gang up and rebel against them.

    The white slaveholders viewed education as a threat to their industry. If a slave was caught trying to educate themselves they would endure physical and psychological abuse. According to the United States Slavery Laws and Restrictions, in 1819 Missouri passed an anti-literacy law, this made it illegal to teach slaves how to read or write. A few years later Alabama, Virginia, and Georgia passed the same law. Many slaves dreamed of having an education, this would have helped them fit in better. Having an education would have made the slaves more successful in the society. Having an education would have opened up more doors and led to a better life. Education was important to the Africans because it gave them the same opportunities as the white people. Overall education promotes growth and success within a society.

    Slavery is wrong because it violates the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence states that “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This documents states that all men are born with rights, it also says the government should never violate them. First, slavery violates the idea of equality by treating slaves like animals. The slave owners treated them like objects, and they were used to produce more products and make more money.

    The treatment slaves received made it seem as if they were worthless. The slaves were men and yet they were not given the equality they deserved. Slavery took away the people’s rights, they were unable to make decisions and live freely. Slaves were not allowed to own land, bear arms, or travel freely. Slavery also went against the idea of “consent to be governed”. This idea states that no one can rule over you without your permission. None of these men wanted to be slaves, and to have every aspect of their life controlled by someone else. Humans naturally want freedom, we want to be able to do the things we want.

    Slavery was immoral and nothing can ever make up for the needless suffering that millions of Africans went through. Africans were treated like dirt, they were not protected by any laws, and they were not educated. Slaves had to live their lives in fear, fear of their owners and the fear of dying. Africans were inhumanely ripped away from their homes and forced to work in unbearable conditions. Slaves were beat and chained up as if they were animals. Slavery is something we will never forget, we are still haunted by the horrors of this institution. Although we can’t change our past mistakes we can try really hard to make sure slavery never happens again. We need to create a world where racism is terminated, a world where blacks and whites are treated equally.

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