The Effects Of Minstrelsy On American Literature

1102 words - 4 pages

Minstrelsy, or minstrel shows, were a widely popular form of entertainment during the eighteenth century that consisted of comedic acts of white people negatively impersonating the African American population as lazy, unintelligent, and superstitious with offensive theatrical makeup called blackface. While minstrel shows encouraged the promotion of music and what Americans may have considered to be the high points of black culture in some shows, they also showed extreme discrimination and racial inequality. With the rise of minstrelsy also came the growing influence that these negative caricatures had on society and culture, even literature. One literary work creates a large amount of controversy even today because of its seemingly racial and discriminatory plot; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is controversial only because of Twain's accurate depiction of the social issues of the time, especially race. Mark Twain himself loved minstrel shows, and because he accurately portrays his characters as products of their time, including Jim, the different caricatures of the stereotypical black slave are evident in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Jim rejects the stereotypical blackface portrayal of minstrelsy.
Blackface characters made their appearance in minstrel shows by the late eighteenth century as minor roles in the plot or scene. An increase in blackface shows led to the creation of the "Sambo" character, played by white actors like George Washington Dixon, Edwin Forrest, and Charles Mathews. Music within black culture was emphasized throughout the shows, especially with Thomas Dartmouth Rice's "Jump Jim Crow," that increased the popularity of minstrel shows even more. Minstrel shows became a strong part of American culture during the 19th century, influencing many Americans' beliefs and practices. The stereotypes represented by these characters negatively altered Americans' view of blacks, thus creating a false depiction of African American culture and society. One such American influenced by minstrel shows was Mark Twain, author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where it can be argued that he reacts to this caricature of blacks during the growing popularity of blackface makeup in minstrel shows in his portrayal of the slave character Jim. The minstrel shows led to two different stereotypes of African Americans: the happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation, and the dandified coon. Mark Twain portrays all of his characters as products of their own time, and thus incorporates these two views of blacks into the creation of his character Jim.
While Jim does reject the stereotypical happy darky character who follows his master's wishes and works contently on the plantation by running away from his owner, Miss Watson, he mainly rejects the negative representation of blacks by the dandified coon character and thus does not confirm the accusations made by either the happy-go-lucky plantation worker or the...

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