Though Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after the abolition of slavery in the United States, the novel itself is set before the Civil War, when slavery was still legal and the economic foundation of the American South. Many characters in Twain’s novel are themselves white slaveholders, like Miss Watson, the Grangerford family, and the Phelps family, while other characters profit indirectly from slavery, as the duke and the king do in turning Miss Watson’s runaway slave Jim into the Phelpses in exchange for a cash reward.
While slaveholders profit from slavery, the slaves themselves are oppressed, exploited, and physically and mentally abused. Jim is inhumanely ripped away from his wife and children. However, white slaveholders rationalize the oppression, exploitation, and abuse of black slaves by ridiculously assuring themselves of a racist stereotype, that black people are mentally inferior to white people, more animal than human. Though Huck’s father, Pap, is a vicious, violent man, it is the much better man, Jim, who is suspected of Huck’s murder, only because Jim is black and because he ran away from slavery, in a bid for freedom, to be with his family.
In this way, slaveholders and racist whites harm blacks, but they also do moral harm to themselves, by viciously misunderstanding what it is to be human, and all for the sake of profit. At the beginning of the novel, Huck himself buys into racial stereotypes, and even reprimands himself for not turning Jim in for running away, given that he has a societal and legal obligation to do so. However, as Huck comes to know Jim and befriend him, he realizes that he and Jim alike are human beings who love and hurt, who can be wise or foolish. Jim proves himself to be a better man than most other people Huck meets in his travels. By the end of the novel, Huck would rather defy his society and his religion—he'd rather go to Hell—than let his friend Jim be returned to slavery.
Slavery and Racism ThemeTracker
Slavery and Racism Quotes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
“When they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote again…I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold?”
“People will call me a low down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t agoing to tell, and I ain’t agoing back there anyways.”
“Yes—en I’s rich now come to look at it. I owns myself, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn’ want no mo’.”
Well, he [Jim] was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a nigger.
“My heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’t k’yer no mo’ what become er me en de raf’. En when I wake up en fine you back agin’, all safe en soun’, de tears come en I could a got 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.”
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger—but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither.
Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free—and who was to blame for it? Why, me.
I do believe [Jim] cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and [I] tore [my note to Miss Watson] up.
I’m bound to say Tom Sawyer fell, considerable, in my estimation. Only I couldn’t believe it. Tom Sawyer a nigger stealer!