During the early 1800’s, racism was still rampant among citizens in America, especially those in the south. Minorities were generalized as a member of a certain racial group and stereotyped with degrading qualities that implied that they were less than human. In the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain creates a character with all of the African-American stereotypes, and throughout the novel, develops him into a character that everyone can relate to, showing that he is human. At that time, African-Americans were seen as animals that did not care for anyone, but Twain shows that Jim has feelings, despite what society thinks. Another aspect of the African-American stereotype was that all African-Americans were stupid, but Jim, although uneducated, is not portrayed as stupid. A common belief among racists at the time was that African-Americans were less than human, but throughout the novel, Jim shows feelings of despair, regret and compassion, all of which are humanlike.
In contrast to the typical stereotype that African-Americans care for no one but theirselves, Jim is depicted as an extremely caring person. When describing his daughter to Huck, Jim says, “En wid dat I fetch’ her a slap side de head dat sont her a-spawlin’…Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ Jim, kaze he never gwyne to forgive hisself as lon’s he live!”(156). In this quotation, Jim expresses extreme regrete and sorrow for his daughter whom he has realized is deaf and couldn’t hear anything he was saying to her.
When Huck and Jim have been separated and Huck is staying at the Grangerfords, Jim shows another instance of caring. When Huck saw Jim for the first time again he wrote, ” I waked him up, and I reckoned it was going to be a grand surprise to him to see me again, but it warn’t. He nearly cried he was so glad, but he warn’t surprised”(114). In this quotation, Twain illustrates Jim’s concern for not only his own family, but for his Huck, whom he has formed a unique friendship with. Twain successfully develops Jim into a character that cares not only for his family, but for his friends.
African-Americans and slaves especially, were stereotyped as ignorant in the early 1800’s. Jim, like most other slaves, has no formal education and talks in a dialect that makes him appear to be less educated. However Jim has a unique kind of intelligence. When Huck was trying to trick Jim into thinking that he had dreamt up their separation in the fog, Jim notices the debris on Huck, “Jim looked at the trash, and then looked at me, and back at the trash again. He had got the dream fixed so strong in his head that he couldn’t seem to shake it loose and get the facts back into its place again right away. But when he did get the thing straightened around he looked at me steady without ever smiling” (54). Jim shows his common sense smarts by figuring out when Huck is lying to him.
The fact that Huck, an educated white boy, couldn’t fool Jim, an uneducated slave, with his scheme shows that although Jim is uneducated, he is intelligent in his own way. When the Duke and the King come on board the raft, Jim knows that since the King claims he is from France, that he should be able to speak French. “I found Jim had been trying to get him to talk French, so he could hear what it was like; but he said he had been in this country so long, and had so much trouble, he’d forgot it”(179). This shows the reasoning ability that Jim has. He knows that since the King is from France he should be able to speak French. Huck interprets this as Jim wanting to hear French, but what Jim is actually trying to do is to verify the King’s story and keep themselves safe.
Perhaps the worst stereotype about African-Americans at that time was that they were less than human, unable to feel humanlike emotions or act like normal humans do. Jim is portrayed as exactly the opposite, routinely risking his own life and freedom for the welfare of others. When Tom has been shot and Huck is consulting with Jim on what they should do, Jim says, “Well, den, is Jim gwyne to say it? No, sah-I doan’budge a step out’n this place ‘dout a doctor; not if it’s forty year! (266)”. Jim has decided to risk being caught again to make sure that Tom Sawyer sees a doctor. He knows very well that he could easily be caught doing this and set back into slavery, but he does it anyway. This shows that Jim is a very humanlike character who experiences humanlike emotions, compassion in this instance, and acts in selfless ways. Twain again demonstrates Jim’s equality and humanlike characteristics when Huck and Jim and eating on the raft. Huck writes, “so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage and greens… and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time” (126). This quotation illustrates Jim as an equal to Huck who can experience the same easy-going and fun emotions that Huck can. No where in the book is Jim unable to understand an emotion Huck or any other person is feeling, showing his humanity.
Jim is a representation of how all people can feel emotions for others, be intelligent no matter how uneducated they are, and experience emotions of the human race. Mark Twain has succeeded in creating a character who although is a minority, embodies characteristics that people can relate to. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was an important statement against racism and the values taught can still be applies to the American culture today.