During the late 1800’s post civil war, the reconstruction era surfaced in the union. The reconstruction, a political program designed to reintegrate the defeated South into the Union as a slavery-free region, began to fail. The North imposed harsh measures, which only embittered the South. Concerned about maintaining power, many Southern politicians began an effort to control and oppress the black men and women whom the war had freed. At around this time, Mark Twain released his novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which a young boy named Huckleberry Finn attempts to flee the South with an escaped slave, Jim.
The novel follows the pair on their journey to the north, often emphasizing the relationship between the two. In his literary criticism, “The Role of Jim in Huckleberry Finn,” Frances V. Brownell states that, “Jim is not merely a noble cause or an ignoble foil, in either of which cases he would be more particularly important for the action episodes of the book than he in fact is; he is rather what one might call a moral catalyst” (Brownell).
Although Brownell makes a strong argument, Jim’s actual role in the novel is as a father figure for Huck.
Jim’s reason for bringing himself into the place of Huck’s father can be contributed both to the fact that Jim is trying to redeem himself after his first failed fatherhood, and that Huck’s own father, Pap, had been killed. Apart from the connection between the two, Jim has a more personal reason for becoming a father figure for Huck: the bitter personal memories and guilt from his mistake he made as a father previously. This reason is revealed shortly after Huck and Jim meet the King and the Duke. While Jim guards the raft he “with his head down betwixt his knees, [moans] and [mourns] to himself” (Twain CH 23).
The strong, full grown Negro man actually mourns and moans to himself. He mourns over the mistake he made to his “po’ little ‘Lizabeth” through his own foolishness and impetuous nature. When he beat her over the head, he didn’t stop to think of the consequences of the action or the reason for her disobedience. This could be connected to the point where Jim tosses a rag over Pap’s dead body. This rag that Jim places on Pap’s face is a symbol for the exchange of fatherhood over Huck. Jim believed that Huck could be a chance to redeem himself.
By covering up the old father and being the only grown man at the moment of transition, Jim shifts into a state of fatherhood. Jim first displays his fatherly archetype when Jim and Huck come upon the tilted house with the body inside. Twain writes, “It’s a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked too. He’s been shot in de back. I reck’n he’s been dead two or three days. Come in, Huck, but doan look at his face – it’s too gashly” (Twain 56). After Jim discovers the dead body, Jim allows Huck to come into the house, but he warns Huck to not look at the body.
Huck states that he doesn’t need any warning because he is already disturbed at the dead man, but the next day, Huck wants to talk about the man’s mysterious death. This is unusual for Huck to be so interested in, as he stated earlier that he “[doesn’t] take no stock in dead people” (Twain 2). At this point, Twain uses Huck’s intuition in the unusual death to point out the large significance in it, which Jim also picks up on. When Jim sees paps “gashly” face, he discerns the fact that there is an open patriarchal position for Huck. Since then, Jim tries to ease into the transition to fatherhood.
He does so by first getting rid of Huck’s previous father and by identifying himself as a strong male figure. In order to prevent Huck from talking about the remains of the old father, Jim does not only scare Huck with the superstitions saying , “it would fetch bad luck; and besides, he said, [the dead man] might come and ha’nt us”(Twain 58), but he also tries to distinguish himself as more of the only prominent male figure in Huck’s life. When the pair are stuck on Jackson Island, Jim begins to talk to Huck about how a person with, “hairy arms en a hairy breas’, it’s a sigh dat you’s agwyne to be rich” (Twain 48).
Apart from the supposed superstition, these qualities could truly prove that one would be rich specifically because these “hairy arms en a hairy breas’” are more often exclusive to males. The hairy bits that are associated with Jim can be used as a contrast to the presumably smooth breast of Miss Watson. Jim uses these qualities to prove that he has the fatherly abilities to both guide and protect Huck, but Twain also uses this section of the novel to foreshadow the economic capability Jim has later in the book. Jim’s physical appearance and the future wealth of $40 contrast both of Huck’s inadequate proxy parents.
First, the ability for Jim to acquire money contrasts Pap’s action of taking his own son’s money, and second, the hairy arms and breast prove that Jim can be a well needed father figure in Huck’s life. Although Jim may have came up with this story in order to convince Huck that Jim would be a better and stronger parent, Twain allows the idea to follow through at the end of the book. When Tom gives Jim the $40, Jim instantly turns around and begins to boast to Huck that the reason he got the money was because of his hairy arms and breast.
Now that Jim has strongly identified himself as Huck’s father figure, he no longer needs to convince Huck with superstitions or boasting. At this point, Twain clearly outlines the relationship between Jim and Huck is father and son. Being that Jim no longer feels extreme sadness for his previous fatherhood, He has the ability to declare that, Pap “ain’t a comin’ back no mo’” (Twain 323) when speaking to Huck, and this is the point where Huck accepts the tacit declaration of real relationship of a father and a son.
Although he does act as a “Moral Catalyst” at a few parts in the book, Jim’s role in the book is to be a father for Huck. Not only does Jim replace Huck’s lost father but also accepts and redeems himself from his past failure as a father. By forming a strong relationship as a father and a son, Jim helps to show a peaceful answer to the problems plaguing the Southern United States during Twain’s time.
Cite this Role of Jim in Huckleberry Finn
Role of Jim in Huckleberry Finn. (2016, Oct 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/role-of-jim-in-huckleberry-finn/