Questions for Study with ideas for answers
Q : Huckleberry Finn was published in 1885 and one of the main
characters is Jim, the slave.
Why was this a brave subject for Twain to cover in this book?
Ideas : At that time this book would have been read by mostly white people
and Twain intends that the reader becomes deeply sympathetic to Jim’s plight.
The reader is expected to relate to this black character and obtain some understanding as to what it was like to be a black person at that time.
It would be natural to assume that the book would not be popular amongst its
white audience, but interestingly the reverse is true and it has been well read across the whole spectrum of America from when it was first published until the present day.
Q : How has Twain depicted slavery in Huckleberry Finn?
Ideas : Twain’s portrayal of slavery solely relates to domestic slaves like
Jim who were by and large better
treated than the slaves who worked on large plantations. He has perhaps
dealt with these types of slaves as he had first hand experience of their lives and situation.
However, if he wished to make a fuller condemnation of slavery, he should
have perhaps given the reader an insight as to what it was like being a slave on a large plantation.
Although you do get a flavor of how difficult it is for a slave to escape to the Free states at the time, he has not seen this struggle through to its end as he announces that Jim has obtained his freedom in the Will of his owner.
One can only surmise why Twain opted to portray slavery in this milder form.
Q : Tom and Huck are clearly close friends, yet on the surface they appear
to be in stark contrast to
one another. Why do they remain close?
Ideas : At the start of the novel, Tom forms a gang and Huck is quite happy
to be Tom’s follower and take
part in his made up adventures. However, Huck soon becomes
disillusioned, as there is no substance to the gang’s escapades.
During the middle part of the novel, Huck has experienced real adventures
and he has successfully negotiated these showing great wit and skill.
He has a more down-to-earth attitude as opposed to Tom’s wild scheming, thus Tom and Huck are foils for one another, their differing qualities serving to highlight, yet balance each other.
Huck remains to be impressed by his friend Tom even though he shows little
regard for the slave Jim.
Although there are clear contrasts between the two characters they share some important traits such as their affinity to the natural world and the fact they share the same state of boyishness.
Q : How did Twain make Jim a sympathetic character to the white reader of
the late nineteenth century?
Ideas : One : He illustrates that Jim has as strong feelings for his family as white people do for theirs.
When he is threatened with being separated from his family by his owner he
shows real grief, and during his escape down the river with Huck he makes reference to missing his family and longing to see them again.
Two : When Jim discovers the body of Huck’s father he does not immediately
inform Huck of his father’s death trying to protect him from unnecessary grief.
Three : When their raft is wrecked on the river and Huck is taken away by
the Grangerfords, Jim stays in the locality to ensure that Huck is safe and make preparations for their continued escape rather than abandoning him to his fate.
Four : Although Tom is not exactly considerate towards Jim, when Tom is shot
Jim stays behind to care for him knowing that he will be recaptured as a runaway slave.