The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn

The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn

by Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua
     
 

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Especially in academia, controversy rages over the merits or evils of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in particular its portrayal of Jim, the runaway slave. Opponents disrupt classes and carry picket signs, objecting with strong emotion that Jim is no fit model for African-American youth of today. In continuing outcries they claim that he and

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Overview

Especially in academia, controversy rages over the merits or evils of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in particular its portrayal of Jim, the runaway slave. Opponents disrupt classes and carry picket signs, objecting with strong emotion that Jim is no fit model for African-American youth of today. In continuing outcries they claim that he and the dark period of American history he portrays are best forgotten. That time has gone, Jim's opponents charge. This is a new day.

But is it? Dare we forget? The author of The Jim Dilemma argues that Twain's novel, in the tradition of all great literature, is invaluable for transporting readers to a time, place, and conflict essential to understanding who we are today. Without this work, she argues, there would be a hole in American history and a blank page in the history of African-Americans. To avoid this work in the classroom is to miss the opportunity to remember.

Few other popular books have been so much attacked, vilified, or censored. Yet Ernest Hemingway proclaimed Twain's classic to be the beginning of American literature, and Langston Hughes judged it as the only nineteenth-century work by a white author who fully and realistically depicts an unlettered slave clinging to the hope of freedom.

A teacher herself, the author challenges opponents to read the novel closely. She shows how Twain has not created another Uncle Tom but rather a worthy man of integrity and self-reliance. Jim, along with other black characters in the book, demands a rethinking and a re-envisioning of the southern slave, for Huckleberry Finn, she contends, ultimately questions readers' notions of what freedom means and what it costs. As she shows that Twain portrayed Jim as nobody's fool, she focuses her discussion on both sides of the Jim dilemma and unflinchingly defends the importance of keeping the book in the classroom.

Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua is director of the American studies program at Dallas Institute for the Humanities.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Just when it seems unlikely that anyone can have anything further to say about the issue of race in Mark Twain's masterpiece, along comes this little volume. It argues with passion backed by impressive historical research that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not the botched work of a racist writer but rather a masterfully controlled and devastating attack on racism and slavery. Chadwick-Joshua (American studies, Dallas Inst. for the Humanities) reconstructs the mindset of 19th-century readers more aware than today's of the terrible inhumanity of slavery. She discusses the way movie versions have undercut the satirical thrust of the novel and shows how Twain creates in Jim a fully human character and uses the numerous other African Americans in his novel to shatter stereotypes. Perhaps the freshest aspect of this book is the way Chadwick-Joshua shows how throwaway details operate to sharpen and unify Twain's satire. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Charles Crawford Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781604738117
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
Publication date:
07/01/1998
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
953,269
File size:
2 MB

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