Character Analysis and Development of Jim in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Character Analysis and Development of Jim in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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When Jim leaves society, he finally gains his individuality. But once Jim returns to civilization, he is immediately marginalized once again, representing the effect of society on the portrayal of Jim. The development of Jim from a caricature to a real person throughout the novel conveys the oppression of African Americans and their struggle to show their true identity in antebellum America.
In the beginning of the book, Twain portrays Jim as a caricature with limited individuality, demonstrating the dehumanization of slaves. When Tom and Huck first come across Ms. Watson’s slave Jim, the boys treat Jim like an object: “Tom whispered to me and wanted to tie Jim to a tree for fun” (Twain 19). Tom’s desire to tie Jim up represents his disrespect for Jim. By Tom wanting to play with him, Jim mirrors a toy that is for amusement. Tom’s action conveys white societies lack of concern and regard for Jim, as a slave, since Tom is an educated white boy. However, Huck responds to Jim that he does not want to and instead Tom hangs his hat above Jim’s head. Jim thinks witches visited him and “was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other niggers” (19). At this point in the book, readers only know Jim as Ms. Watson’s superstitious slave, who lacks a true identity. By Tom playing a trick on Jim and Jim being “proud about it,” Twain seems to mock Jim since readers know it was just Tom. In addition, Twains use of the word “nigger,” represents the trivialization of Jim. Similar to Jim, in Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem We Wear the Mask, the speaker conveys his struggle as a minstrel man and his need to “wear the mask (Dunbar 1). Dunbar writes, “This debt we pay to human guile; with torn and bleeding hearts we smile” ...

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...“I knowed he was white inside” (279). Even though Huck seemed to make progress in his perceptions of African Americans in the novel, Huck still remains to confine to societies belief that whites are superior. Huck believes that because Jim was compassionate and helped Tom that he is white, thus portraying the belief that skin color is enough to discriminate against. Eventually, Tom says that “ Old Miss Watson dies two months ago…and she set him free in her will” (369), which means Tom always knew Jim was free, but continued to use his captivity as a game. Because Tom hid the secret of Jim’s freedom, he conveys his lack of knowledge in Jim’s struggle. Jim could have been saved from time in chains but instead had to suffer through Tom’s need for adventure. Therefore, Tom selfishness as a white child resulted in the discomfort and suffering of Jim as a slave.

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