There is a great deal of controversy over whether or not The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain should be taught in schools. It has been argued that Mark Twain depicts Jim as Huck’s impotent and submissive sidekick. Another argument made is that Jim isn’t portrayed as much of an actual human being nor is he treated like one throughout the novel. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be taught in schools so that students and teachers are able to think about and discuss their opinions on what Mark Twain’s purpose was in depicting Jim the way he does.
Many critics claim that Mark Twain saw Jim as no more than some type of loyal sidekick who was depicted as a simple-minded character who showed few humanistic characteristics throughout the book. This is not the case, Mark Twain had a purpose in creating a character like Jim, to reinforce yet challenge stereotypical racism back in that time period. Mark Twain did in fact make Jim a simple-minded character lacking intellectual abilities but he also humanized Jim by giving him traits like feelings and also by giving him somewhat of a paternal role to Huck. Doan’ know, yit, what he’s a-gywne to do” (85). “I went in en unkivered him and didn’t let you come in? Well den, you k’n git yo’ money when you wants it; kase dat wuz him” (320). These two quotes from the beginning and end of the novel show that Jim had no real intellectual growth throughout the novel. Mark Twain continues to have Jim speak in poor (poorer than the the other characters) English to reinforce the stereotypical racism of uneducated African Americans in the South.
However, Mark Twain also gives Jim somewhat of a paternal role towards Huck which makes Jim out to be more humane. “Come in Huck, but doan’ look at his face – it’s to gashly. I didn’t look at him at all. Jim throwed some old rags over him… ” (50). This passage from the book shows the paternal instinct Twain gave to Jim’s character in which he undermines racist stereotypes like Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Sally who claims that black slaves were not people (221). “My heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you was los’, en I didn’ k’yer no’ mo’ what become er me en de raf’…..
It was fifteen minutes before I could go and humble myself to a nigger, but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d ‘a’ known it would make him feel that way” (86). In this passage Mark Twain allows Jim to voice his emotions and by doing so Jim is able to not only make Huck listen but think about the way he treated Jim. Mark Twain not only breaks racist stereotypes through Jim in this passage but breaks them through Huck.
Huck acknowledges that Jim is capable of having feelings and allows his own mood to be influenced by the fact that he hurt Jim’s feelings by doing so Huck has made himself “equal” to Jim thus giving another example of humanizing Jim. “Said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State, and then set him under the trees again and huge his hat on a limb to show who done it” (6). Jim’s story about the witches shows his childlike, naive way of thinking developed from a life in slavery in which he was sheltered from knowledge.
Jim’s lack of gumption allows Twain to fortify the patronizing racist stereotypes that had developed in the South at this time. How Mark Twain depicts Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well as Twain’s reasoning for doing so is a reason in and of itself why Huck Finn should be taught in schools. Huck Finn is more than just an adventure novel it is a book that encourages and requires students as well as teachers to think about the deeper meanings, such as Mark Twain’s purpose in creating a character like Jim.