Study Guide

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Race

By Mark Twain


Chapter 6

here was a free n***** there from Ohio—a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain't a man in that town that's got as fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane—the awful- est old gray-headed nabob in the State. And what do you think? They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain't the wust. They said he could VOTE when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was 'lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn't too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let that n***** vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote agin. (6.11)

Oh, Pap. Like that racist relative who shows up at every family gathering, he just digs himself into a really, really ugly hole. But is he an exception, or is he just saying what almost everyone in the book is thinking?

Chapter 14

"Well, it's a blame ridicklous way, en I doan' want to hear no mo' 'bout it. Dey ain' no sense in it."

"Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do?" (14.39, 14.40)

Jim can't believe that people speak different languages all over the world, since we're all the same. But if we're all the same, why are some of us enslaved? And why doesn't he seem to make that conceptual leap?

Chapter 15
Huckleberry Finn

It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n*****; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way. (15.49)

Huck isn't happy about having to apologize to a black man, but he does it. It's super impressive for the time and place that he ends up apologizing, but we can see that he's still, well, racist—he's just less racist than everyone else. Is Twain holding him up as an example, or does Twain want us to do better?

Chapter 16
Huckleberry Finn

It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn't ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, "Give a n***** an inch and he'll take an ell." Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this n*****, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn't even know; a man that hadn't ever done me no harm. (16.8)

Okay, aside from how gross this passage is, notice the contradiction. Huck says "his children" when he's talking about Jim, but then, just two words later, says that those children "belonged" to a different man. Does Huck realize this contradiction, on some level? Or is this Twain, pointing out how much Huck still has to learn?

Chapter 26
The Duke and The King

"Because Mary Jane 'll be in mourning from this out; and first you know the n***** that does up the rooms will get an order to box these duds up and put 'em away; and do you reckon a n***** can run across money and not borrow some of it?" (26.97)

Here, the duke is basically saying that all black men are thieves—which, of course, is exactly what the duke is. Ah, hypocrisy. But it's really no worse than the rest of the antebellum South, which welcomes in white strangers and… locks up black strangers.

Chapter 28
The Wilks Family

So she done it. And it was the n*****s—I just expected it. She said the beautiful trip to England was most about spoiled for her; she didn't know HOW she was ever going to be happy there, knowing the mother and the children warn't ever going to see each other no more—and then busted out bitterer than ever, and flung up her hands (28.3)

Aside from Huck, Mary seems to be the only other white character in the book who's able to see black people as having the same feelings and emotions as white people. But is she actually doing anything about it? (Crying doesn't count.)

Chapter 31

"Well, I RECKON! There's two hunderd dollars reward on him. It's like picking up money out'n the road." (31.13)

Jim = $200. Got it? The boy Huck meets on the road doesn't see Jim as a person; he sees him as a big pile of money. It's pretty ugly.

Chapter 40

"Well, den, dis is de way it look to me, Huck. Ef it wuz HIM dat 'uz bein' sot free, en one er de boys wuz to git shot, would he say, 'Go on en save me, nemmine 'bout a doctor f'r to save dis one?' Is dat like Mars Tom Sawyer? Would he say dat? You BET he wouldn't! WELL, den, is JIM gywne to say it? No, sah—I doan' budge a step out'n dis place 'dout a DOCTOR, not if it's forty year!" (40.46)

Jim is pretty convinced that Tom would sacrifice his own freedom to save Jim. That's really noble of Jim, but we're not convinced that Tom's views on race are quite as progressive.

Chapter 42

I liked the n***** for that; I tell you, gentlemen, a n***** like that is worth a thousand dollars—and kind treatment, too. I had everything I needed, and the boy was doing as well there as he would a done at home—better, maybe, because it was so quiet; but there I WAS, with both of 'm on my hands, and there I had to stick till about dawn this morning; then some men in a skiff come by, and as good luck would have it the n***** was setting by the pallet with his head propped on his knees sound asleep; so I motioned them in quiet, and they slipped up on him and grabbed him and tied him before he knowed what he was about, and we never had no trouble. (42.15)

This is the doctor who treated Tom. He's sticking up for Jim, but notice how he does it? By inflating his price. Miss Watson was going to sell Jim for $800, but the Doctor thinks he's worth at least $1000. That's… nice?

Tom Sawyer

"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 cretur that walks this earth!" (42.45)

Oh, Tom. Tom has no problem tricking Jim into staying locked up just to have a bit of fun, but once someone tries to take him back into slavery he get all outraged. Seems like even Tom can't see Jim as a real person.