Huck says for Jim "I knew he was white inside": in Huck Finn, Chapter 40

Also Read

      INTRODUCTION TO THE TIMES: Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1884 though it has been set in a much earlier time. With the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, slavery had been abolished. Nevertheless, the social scene was still far from being what would accord these "niggers" their rightful place in society.

      The novel has been set in the pre-Civil War days when slavery and prejudice were still a bitter reality. It was a period when the right to Ownership of these slaves was an accepted thing and no fingers were raised against it. Even in the post-Civil War era, though politically, "blacks" were a free race and had been granted citizenship in 1870 by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Nevertheless, those belonging to the Black community continued to be looked down upon as mere "property"; they were treated no better than sub-humans. They were not expected to have love and other human emotions that were considered to be the premise of the superior "white" lot. Not just socially, but also legally and politically, Blacks did not have many privileges. Racial tensions had gone up exponentially. In a nutshell, they were not a part of mainstream white society.

      The novel, Huckleberry Finn has been applauded as "a fixture among the classics of world literature" (Kaplan). It "is a staple from junior high to graduate school and "is second only to Shakespeare in the frequency with which it appears in the classroom.. " (Carey-Webb). However, due to various reasons, including faulty grammar and sentence construction as well as the repeated use of the word "nigger, many people have brought up severe opposition to the teaching of this text. This antagonism is based on the fact that the teaching of the text, especially in racially and mixed classrooms, is controversial and touches the sensitive chord of those who are affected.


      There is no doubt about the fact that almost all the critics consider Huck as the central character and the hero of the novel. Jim's character has not been given the attention that it truly deserves. Besides Huck, also appraise Jim as the most important character in the story. He is the one who generates most of Huck's moral and emotional development that has been discussed at great length. Intrinsically, it is his quest for freedom that sparks off the entire voyage and forms the basic structure of the novel.

      Jim is a quintessential Negro slave within the American society of the Mississippi valley. He is extremely passive, illiterate, and has a strong belief in the powers of the supernatural. His submissiveness, as well as social conditioning, prompts him to accept his inferiority as a "black" man and he acquiesces to the power that the superior "white" man wields over him.

      In the context of the status of these blacks, as the novel opens, readers begin with a prejudice against them. This is directed by all the other white characters in the novel. Even Huck's racial stance, though not too overt, comes to the fore in his dealings with Jim. Twain, in an attempt to weaken this racial stance, portrays Jim in a positive light, almost as soon as the latter is introduced to us. An early instance of this includes when, in the chapter, Jim and Huck come across a two-story frame house floating in the flood. . On having a closer look inside the house, they notice a dead body. Jim goes nearer to take a glimpse of the body. Realizing it is that of Huck's father, Pap, he does not let Huck see it as it is too gashly". He behaves like a father figure to the latter in that he doesn't want his friend to be upset over his father's death.

      Depicting Jim's humanity further, we are given an account of the "fog incident". In chapter 15, Huck and Jim's raft gets overturned by an oncoming steamboat, and, owing to dense fog, the two of them get separated from each other. Finally, when they manage to reunite, Huck plays a trick on Jim. He makes the latter believe that it was all a dream and that they have been together all this while. At first, confused, Jim believes him and attributes it to supernatural warnings and signs, But soon, he realizes that Huck is trying to pull a fast one. He feels hurt and admonishes Huck thus -

"What do dey stan' for? I'm gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos" broke bekase you wuz los, en I didn' k'yer no mo what become er me en de raf. En when I wake up en fine you back agin', all safe en soun', de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss you' foot I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinking 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie...

      Jim tells Huck, "..rash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head or dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed" (chapter 15). Huck is surprised at Jim's capacity to possess such strong, "human" feelings. He feels a strong sense of remorse and even though "It was fifteen minutes before I could Work myself to go and humble myself to a nigger..". Huck decides that he wouldn't "do him no more mean tricks; and I wouldn't done that one if I'd knowed it would make him feel that way", This is the first step towards Huck's moral progression.


      Another instance that reinforces Jim's humanity is when he feels sad and lonely because he realizes that he can never unite with his family. Huck overhears him in chapter 23, and is again surprised that a "nigger" can have such a strong bond with his family members. He sees the latter "setting there with his head down betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself" and admits, "I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks do for their'n. It doesn't seem natural, but I reckon it's so". Although this statement clearly indicates Huck's veiled inclination towards racial prejudice. Nevertheless, he acknowledges Jim's softer side.

      Once again, we have a rendezvous with the gentle facet of Jim's personality. In chapter 24, he laments his behavior towards his deaf and dumb four-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. It is a profoundly moving story that he recounts to Huck. " day she was a-standin' around', en I says to her, I say: 'Shet de do'! She never done it; just stood dah, kiner smilin' up at me. It make me mad......".


      These isolated incidents prepare us for the fact that, as readers, we need to rework our pre-conceived notions of "black" people. They might be illiterate, docile, and superstitious. But this doesn't mean that they are not entitled to the dignity that is due to any human being, irrespective of the color of his skin. The ultimate and concluding perception of Jim's humanity comes towards the end of the text. Jim has been taken prisoner on the Phelps's farm after being sold by the king and the duke. He is entirely dependent on Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer to help him get his freedom. After a series of convoluted endeavors, the two friends manage to run away with Jim. In the process, Tom suffers a bullet injury as he gets shot at in his leg. It is a serious wound and the pain is excruciating. Jim, on seeing Tom's condition, refuses to budge from there. He is fully aware of what it could mean. It could mean not just the loss of his newly acquired and much-awaited freedom but also his life. Yet he proposes to stay till Huck gets a doctor's help. By offering the ultimate sacrifice to save Tom's life, he makes his humanity more perceptible.

On getting resistance from both Tom and Huck, he says, "Ef it wuz nim at uz bein sot Iree, en one er de boys wuz to git shot, would e say, Go on en save me, nemmine 'bout a doctor f'r to save dis one? 15 dat like Mars Tom Sawyer? Would he say dat: You bet he wouldn't Well, den, is Jim gwyne to say it? No, sah - I doan budge a step out'n dis place, 'dout a doctor; not if it's forty year! (Chapter 40). The fact that the "white" boys - Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn - have assembled the entire drama for his escape, he is totally indebted to them. Like Huck, Jim too views Tom as a powerful force, without whose help, his most sought-after and adored dream of freedom could never come to fruition.

      Huck acknowledges Jim's magnanimity and humanity through the strongest statement in the entire text - "I knowed he was white inside, and I reckoned he'd say what he did say-so it was all right, now, and I told Tom I was a - going for a doctor" (Chapter 40).

      Even the doctor applauds Jim's demeanor. He confirms why Jim deserves this applause when he says, "..out crawls this nigger from somewheres, and says he'll help, and he done it too, and done it very well....... never see a nigger that was a better nuss or faithfuller, and yet he was risking his freedom to do it....." (chapter 42).


      Now that Huck has unveiled the man - Jim - behind the mask, skin color ceases to be a hindrance anymore. With this statement, Huck reaches the zenith of his moral and emotional intelligence and learns to consider a fellow human being as his equal. He becomes conscious of the fact that all human beings are of the same color from inside. Huck has now found a family member in the true sense.


      Even throughout the novel, Twain makes it a point to acquaint the readers, time and again, with Jim's humanity - the way he serves almost as a father figure to Huck is an instance of this. He reveals the fundamental reality of African American humanity by demonstrating Jim's capacity to feel deep, human emotions. Ralph Ellison writes: "it is from behind this stereotype mask that Jim's dignity and human complexity - or Twain's complexity-emerge.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Huck says for Jim in chapter 40. "I knew he was white inside". What light does this statement throw on Huck's moral character?


What is the significance of Huck's statement. "I knowed he was white inside"?


What is Jim's status within the racial context as portrayed in the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Previous Post Next Post

Search Your Questions