Jim\'s role in Huckleberry Finn



3/13/97
Jim’s Role in Huckleberry Finn


When asked who the most important character in Huckleberry Finn is, almost all people would say either Huck himself, or Jim, the black slave. They are both essential to the story, though, and both give to the story an alternate perspective. Huck is the outsider, the nonconformist who just doesn’t fit into society, and Jim is the runaway black slave, fearing for his freedom, being persecuted only on the grounds of the color of his skin. Jim is the representation of all slaves both stereotyped and in reality, just as Tom is the representations of society, and civilization. Not many people can ever really experience either person’s situations, except through this book and other’s like it. However, just because we can’t physically be there doesn’t mean we can’t experience it. Adler says, "We learn from experience—the experience that we have in the course of our daily lives. So too, we can learn from the vicarious, or artistically created, experiences that fiction produces in our imaginations."
Jim reveals several things about himself through his actions and by what others say about his actions. I would like to examine a couple of scenes involving Jim to show some of his notable traits. The first passage I’ll use is in chapter 11. This is the chapter where Huck finds out that some people are going to see if there is anyone on Jackson Island, where Huck and Jim currently are. After Huck tells Jim that men are coming, Huck says this about Jim’s reaction: "Jim never asked no questions, he never said a word; but the way he worked for the next half an hour showed about how he was scared." This confirms something obvious—that Jim values his freedom greatly. Once he has experienced a kind of freedom, he understands all the better what he has been deprived of, and isn’t willing to go back to the chains that slavery give him. It also shows that slaves were human. If slaves could feel fear and understand the consequences of getting caught running away, then it follows that they could feel other emotions. Bronowski said, "Only human beings have…the existence of words or symbols for absent things, all the way from ‘nice day’ to ‘ultimate deterrent,’ enables human beings to think themselves into situations which do not actually exist. This gift is the imagination…" Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." These can be used as a definition for what a man is—someone who has an imagination, and one who thinks. Has Jim demonstrated that he has an imagination? Certainly. From waking up and discovering his hat is no longer on his head, he creates this elaborate story involving the devil and witches. If this isn’t an imagination, then I don’t know what is. Has Jim demonstrated that he can think? He runs away because he doesn’t want to be sold down the river, and then runs away from Jackson Island when he thinks he might be caught. So, it appears that Jim is human, and thus slaves are human too.
The next passage I would like to look at is in chapter 15. The passage is where Jim figures out he has been tricked by Huck:
What do [the leaves and rubbish] stan’ for? I’s gwyne to tell you. When I go all wore out wid work, en wid de callin’ for you, en went to sleep, my hear 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 again’, all safe en soun’, de tears come en I could a god 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. 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.

This is the first major dispute that Huck and Jim have. Huck has not been a good friend, and like Tom, has tried to trick Jim into believing that he has just had a dream about what has taken place, and