Practical Jokes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      In the beginning of, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is barely aware of Jim's humanity. He treats him as the butt of practical jokes. Despite being almost uneducated himself, he seems to be conscious of his "superiority" over the latter on the basis of the color of skin. Huck belongs to the class of "white" people while Jim is a nigger and therefore, under the tutelage of society, does not earn the respect and station of a dignified human being.


      Chapter 2 introduces us to Jim for the first time. Huck Finn's friend Tom Sawyer tries to sneak the former out of Widow Douglas' house, in the middle of the night. Jim, Miss Watson's slave discerns some sounds and becomes alert - "Who dah"? In a bid to determine the source of the sound, he tiptoes and happens to stand right between the two boys - ...we could a touched him, nearly...". Huck and Tom have a tough time trying to keep from getting detected. "Well, likely it was minutes and minutes that there warn't a sound, and we all there so close together. There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I didn't scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I'd die if I couldn't scratch.....My nose begun to itch. It itched till the tears come into my eyes. But I dasn't scratch. Then it begun to itch on the inside. Next I got to itching underneath. I didn't know how I was going to set still. This miserableness went on as much as six or seven minutes; but it seemed a sight longer than that. I was itching in eleven different places now"

      Just as it gets more and more difficult for him to control himself, they hear the sound of Jim's heavy breathing. Eased that he has finally fallen asleep, they decide to move on. Suddenly, Tom expresses his desire to tie him up to the tree. Despite Huck's protestations, Tom resolves to go ahead with his plan. He slips the hat off Jim's head and slings it over a tree branch right overhead.

      On waking up, Jim assumes it to be the work of witches. Having a strong belief in powers of the supernatural, he hallucinates that these witches had hypnotized him and rode him all over the state. Every time he recounts the story to his slave friends, it assumes a tinge of exaggeration, thus making him a hero; he becomes a local celebrity within the slave community. "Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder".

      It is noteworthy that Huck does not take part in this joke, wholeheartedly. It is basically Tom's brainchild and he revels in it. On the other hand, it is an equally apt argument that Huck's refusal to be party to it is inspired more by a concern for his own safety rather than any regard for Jim's feelings. He admits "I said no; he might wake and make a disturbance, and then they'd find out I warn't in... I didn't want him to try. I said Jim might wake up and come..."

      Whether Jim himself believes this tale or not is a matter of hypothesis. It is also worth mentioning that this episode prepares us for Huck's attitude towards Tom. He always acquiesces to whatever the latter does irrespective of whether or not he subscribes to it.


      In chapter 10, Huck finds a rattlesnake and kills him. He places the dead snake at Jim's feet and later, forgets all about it. When the dead Snake's mate discovers its companion near Jim's feet, it bites him on his heel. This causes extreme pain to Jim. Huck feels remorse at having been the cause of this trouble. "That all comes of my being such a tool as to not remember that wherever you leave a dead snake its mate always comes there and curls around it". He promises to himself that he would never do such a thing again. "......for I warn't going to let Jim find out it was all my fault, not if I could help it.....made up my mind I wouldn't ever take a-holt of a snake-skin again with my hands, now that I see what had come of it".

      This is the first time that Huck feels penitent for having caused Jim any trouble. This incident, therefore, is the beginning of the formers moral journey towards a realization that would shape his moral character.


      In the hope of reaching Cairo soon, it is on the second night that Huck and Jim get separated from each other in a thick fog. After struggling for a long time, trying to locate Jim, Huck is about to give up when he manages to track him down.

      He finds Jim fast asleep. "When I got to it Jim was setting there with his head down between his knees, asleep, with his right arm hanging over the steering-oar". On waking up, Jim is overjoyed to see Huck but the latter pretends that all this was but a dream. He brings about Jim to believe that it is nothing more than Jim's apparitions. Almost when Jim starts believing him and starts attributing reasons to it, he perceives the trash of leaves and rubbish on the raft. He realizes that, all this while Huck has been fooling him. He is terribly hurt and chides Huck for having played this joke on him. "When I got all wore out id 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 rat. 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 yo' foot, I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin' bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole jim wid a lie".

      The way Jim chastises him in his speech, "Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is' what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes em ashamed", makes the latter realize that Jim too has feelings and is not mere livestock. The incident further leads to Huck's moral progression. "It was fifteen minutes," he says, "before I could work myself up to go and humble my-self to a nigger; butI done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if l'd 'a' knowed it would make him feel that way".

      Initially, Jim seems to take all these jokes in his stride until the fog incident in this chapter. Here, we get reason to discern that these jokes hurt him intolerably. Also notable is the fact that Huck's social conditioning betrays his mildly racist outlook. Even after realizing his mistake, he needs a good "fifteen minutes" to gear himself up "to go and humble" himself to Jim because he is a "nigger". It is below his dignity to concede to Jim merely on grounds of skin color.


      Though the above are the three practical jokes played on Jim, the discussion would be incomplete without a mention of the joke played by Tom Sawyer on both, Huck Finn and Jim. The runaway slave is sold to the owner of the Phelps' farm. When Huck becomes aware of this, he decides to take Tom's help and free Jim. Tom, who is serious about his style", concocts convoluted plans to engineer the escapade. After a lot of commotion, putting everybody's well-being in jeopardy, the two friends, finally, manage to help Jim secure his freedom. The trouble created by Tom makes everyone's life wretched and glum. Not only does he create nuisance for himself but also for Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas.

      Chapter 42 exposes to us that Jim is a free man - has been one ever since before the entire drama began. "They hain't no right to shut him up! Shove!- and don't you lose a minute. Turn him loose! he ain't no slave; he's as free as any creature that walks this earth!...I mean every word I say, Aunt Sally, and if somebody don't go, I'll go. I've knowed him all his life, and so has Tom, there......

      It is revealed to us that Miss Watson, on her deathbed, had felt contrite for having tried to sell jim off. She, in her Will, had declared her slave as a free man. ".....Old Miss Watson died two months ago, and she was ashamed she ever was going to sell him down the river, and said so; and she set him free in her will".

      Tom's revelation, that Jim has been free for a long time, is quite annoying. The fact that Tom had been cognizant of this fact, all this while, and that he made everyone go through all the toil and misery for naught, is more irritating. The episode strengthens our opinion that his playfulness and zest for adventure have been very harmful.


      Tom and Huck may have had their share of the fun, but Jim has the last laugh. These practical jokes see Jim emerging from a mere "nigger" to a human being who deserves the dignity of being one; these jokes prove to be a vehicle for making Huck acknowledge the latter's emergence from the abstract to the concrete. They provide the basis of Huck's changing stance for Jim. Jim comes to the fore, not as an uneducated, superstitious and naive nigger but a sensitive, devoted, and caring friend who reveals a profound sense of dignity.

      Jim metamorphoses from a slave to more than a companion to Huck he becomes a father figure who gives Huck more than what his biological father, Pap, ever could. In this sense, he becomes a family member in the true sense of the word.

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