Struggle for Freedom in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Native Son
Throughout history, great authors have served as sentinels for racism and prejudice in American society. The Mark Twain novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a graphic story of 1840s America that depicts the plight of an uneducated black slave named Jim moved many to empathize with African-Americans. Compassion against the evils of slavery soon spread across the country. A war-torn America abolished slavery in 1865. However, Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, a compelling story of the life and death of another black man, Bigger Thomas, makes a convincing argument that slavery in America was still very much alive during that period. Civil rights legislation and enforcement would not come until years later. A generation apart, Jim and Bigger embody the evolution of the black man struggling to be free in American society.
On Twain’s Mississippi of the 1840’s, slaves are regarded more as property than human— there is no freedom for the black man. Jim is trapped in a society that trumpets racial hatred; for example, Huck’s father said, “they told me there was a state…where they’d let the nigger vote…I says I’ll never vote again” (Twain 35). Early in their travels, Jim and Huck mirror the chasm in black and white relations that plagues America at the time. Blinded by prejudice, Huck seems incapable of recognizing that, much like himself, Jim is scared and running from a life of few choices, towards a dream of independence. Instead, he can only see what society allows him to—the blackness of Jim’s skin. He is reluctant to be seen with Jim because he knows “People would call [him] a low-down Abolitionist and despise [him] for keeping mum” (50). Even after Jim explains his fears to Huck by saying, “I noticed dey wuz a nigger trader roun’…en I begin to git oneasy…I hear old missus tell de wider she gyen to sell me down to Orleans,” (50) Huck still remains hesitant and only agrees to keep Jim’s secret because earlier he gave his word. To Huck, a slave is another’s property or investment; so consequently, he believes Jim is wrong to run from his master. Living in a society tolerant of such deep-rooted racism and prejudice, Jim’s generation is challenged merely to survive.
To Jim, freedom’s goals are simple—the opportunity to be with his family and live without fear of being captured or killed.