Jim: Character Analysis - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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JIM'S QUEST FOR FREEDOM
      Jim is Miss Watson's slave who runs away because he has learnt that his owner has decided to sell him off to a slave-trader from Orleans. Petrified at the thought of being separated from his family, he takes this bold step. Jim's main aim is to attain freedom - in the literal sense. In his efforts to get freedom, he risks his life and runs away to Jackson's island where he bumps into Huck and then continues his journey with the latter. Freedom is important to Jim not just for his own sake; he yearns for freedom not just from the shackles of slavery but also for the sake of his family. It is his longing to be reunited with his family members that he seeks freedom for. During his flight, he befriends Huck who remains loyal to him throughout their odyssey together.

SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS
      A character entrenched in superstitious beliefs, he is a role model for other niggers. Though, initially, his obsession with superstition seen ridiculous and idiotic, his knowledge of supernatural powers reveals his profound grasp of the natural world. Here, he conforms to what anthropologists say about incapable and feeble people. According to them such people resort to such supernatural beliefs as a support system for themselves. Despite having been brought up in a similar social milieu, Jim and Huck have different reactions to these superstitious beliefs. While the former recognizes these beliefs as true, they are unheard of by Huck.

JIM'S RELIABILITY
      Despite the fact that Jim often behaves in a child-like and innocent manner, he is a steadfast and dependable character. As a person, he is extremely compassionate and considerate. Exploring Jackson island, in chapter 9, Jim and Huck notice a large two-story frame-house floating in the river. They go inside to retrieve whatever treasure they can. Jim notices Pap's dead body lying on the floor. Due to his concern for Huck, he does not reveal the truth about Pap's death until the end of the novel. He cooks for the boy and keeps watch on the raft. In doing so, he establishes himself like a father-figure to Huck who has nobody else in the world to call his own.

      Jim feels extreme fondness and tenderness for his family, especially his daughter, Elizabeth. He laments the fact that he can't be reunited with his loved ones. Through this display of emotion, Twain reinforces the fact that blacks are as capable of emotion as white people are. Though initially, Huck finds it difficult to accept that a nigger could be as capable of emotional display as a white man, gradually, the former gives Jim his due.

      Later, in chapter 40, when Tom gets a bullet wound in his calf, Jim refuses to budge until a doctor is called. He fully understands the implications of this decision - it might have cost him not only his much-awaited freedom but his life as well. Despite the apprehension of being recaptured, he comes out of hiding and helps the doctor in nursing Tom. Through the character of Jim, Twain makes his readers feel a "genuine respect for Jim". (Booker T. Washington). It is ironical that, while all the swindlers, thieves, liars, murderers, frauds and drunkards are amongst the "civilized whites", it is Jim who portrays true humanity.

      We are steadily reminded that Jim's attachment for and warmth towards Huck is there to stay. He doesn't leave the young boy's side even though, at times, the latter forgets about him, though temporarily. When Huck arrives at the Grangerfords' mansion, in chapter 17, he is quite intrigued by the occurrences in that house. The feud with the Shepherdsons, Miss Sophia's love story and his friendship with Buck Grangerford seize his attention. He forgets about Jim who is constantly waiting in the swamp for him.

JIM'S SENSE OF PRIDE
      No doubt at times, Jim acknowledges his lesser social standing as compared to Huck, who is a white man, nevertheless, the former also has a unswerving sense of self-esteem. In chapter 15, when Huck plays a practical joke on him, he feels extremely hurt and chides the former for his insensitivity and lack of concern. He says, {"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 all you wuz thinkin' "bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jin wid a lie. Dat truck dalh is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de hend er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed".} This makes Huck realize that Jim too has feelings and is not mere livestock.

      This incident makes it noteworthy that Jim's feelings for Huck are as profound as those of a loving father for his son. Though the earlier practical jokes, such as the one played by Tom and Huck on the sleeping Jim in one of the earliest chapters as well as the rattle snake joke played by Huck, did not annoy Jim, the one played in Chapter 15 does. This is probably because Jim is, by now, so attached to Huck that he dreads the prospect of losing the latter.

JIM'S AWARENESS OF HIS SOCIAL EMINENCE
      Despite his awareness of his right to freedom, Jim has also been influenced by society's perception of "niggers". He acquiesces to his fate as being inferior to the "whites". In Chapter 14, Huck tells him how people, from different nationalities, speak different languages. Due to lack of exposure, Jim is so insulated from the outside world that he can't understand why all human beings don't talk the same language. He says that if someone were to come up and say "Polly voo-franzy (Parlez vous francais), he wouldn't take the insult and would "bust him over de head".

"dat is, if he warn't white. I wouldn' low no nigger to call me dat".

      Maybe, he would not be as vociferous when confronted with a white man. In his heart of hearts, Jim also concedes to his inferiority.

JIM - A VEHICLE FOR HUCK's MORAL PROGRESSION
      Despite Huck's age and the immaturity associated with it, he evolves spiritually under Jim's influence. Owing to Jim's dependability and love, Huck looks up to him like a father figure and decides to safeguard the latter's interest, even if "People would call me a low-dozwn Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum- but that don't make no difference".

      Critics have pointed out that, without Jim's presence in the scheme of things in the novel, Huck would not have reached the moral and spiritual heights that he does by the end of the story. He would have either remained a useless vagabond in his "rags" and sugar hogshead or would have been killed by his father. At best, he would have consented, however half-heartedly, to a "sivilized" life with Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, pursuing the worthless pursuits in Tom Sawyer's style.

JIM THE HERO OF THE NOVEL?
      Critical opinion argues that, in one sense, Jim is the hero of the novel. After all, it is Jim who brings Huck towards moral development. Without Jim, Huck wouldn't have had any reason to test his own abilities. He would never have known how much he is capable of raising the bar for himself and exploring his capacity. Jim, therefore, helps Huck rise to heroic proportions. By being a support system to Huck, Jim gives him the emotional and moral support and is his guiding light.

      Jim is also the hero of the novel because he shows all positive characteristics in a human being. In absolutely none of the other "white" and "sivilized" characters in the novel do we discern such humanity, compassion and purity.

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