Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, persistently attacked since 1885 as vulgar and
inelegant, has more recently been condemned as elitist, sexist, and racist. The charge of racism turns not only on
the pervasive use of the “n” word, but also on a misunderstanding of Jim, the runaway slave, as a minstrel-show
stereotype of the powerless simpleton. Urging a reconsideration of Jim’s role in light of the literary and
psychological features of the captivity narrative, this essay argues that Mark Twain builds the novel around two
related forms of captivity: Jim’s slavery in the first part of the novel and, in the second part, the joint captivity
of Jim and Huck by the Duke and the King. The first half turns on two competing plans: Huck’s and Jim’s.
Huck’s is a juvenile plan, open-ended and in search of thrilling adventures. Jim’s is an adult plan with specific
ends in view: escaping from from slavery at the risk of his life and eventually freeing his wife and children.
Huck Finn would like to diminish Jim’s manhood, but Mark Twain will not allow it. And when Mark Twain
realizes that if he defeats Jim’s plan he will be writing a tragedy, he searches for a comic ending--with the
ostensibly insuperable difficulties resolved--by turning to parody and by using all the trappings of the traditional
captivity narrative for social satire until, when all seems lost, by supplying Tom Sawyer to provide a deeply
ambiguous tragi-comic rescue. The final section of the essay provides a brief meditation on that ambiguous
Griffin, Edward M. (2013). Jim's Secrets: What Mark Twain Knew But Huck Finn Didn’t. Journal of Opinions, Ideas, and Essays. August 15, 2013. Article #3. Available at http://purl.umn.edu/148010
Jim's Secrets: What Mark Twain Knew But Huck Finn Didn't.
Journal of Opinions, Ideas & Essays (JOIE).
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
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