Racism is a common yet harmful part of human society, described as the biased treatment of a person based on skin tone or ethnicity. It is also an important theme in literature involving African American and white populations in America during its younger years. Mark Twain’s novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a particular work of American literature that uses fictional characters to portray this human vice. Huck, a white boy living in Missouri who refuses to be “civilized,” and Jim, a black slave dreaming of freedom, are prominent examples of how people are influenced by racism in numerous aspects of their lives.
Huck and Jim’s actions demonstrate the effect of racism on education and the way people view each other and themselves.
Racism, under extreme circumstances, has the ability to either aid or prevent access to a formal education. Huck and Jim both live in the South, where slavery is a normal way of life and sets distinct limits on the education of a slave.
Since slaves serve the sole purpose of working long hours for the benefit of their masters, the people believe that African American slaves have no intelligence and will never need it because the rest of their lives are dedicated to manual labor. This suggested inferiority is the reason behind Jim never having the opportunity to attend school and become literate.
Therefore, Jim learns about the world mainly through personal experience. He also relies heavily on superstitious elements, such as his magic hair-ball. Jim claims “there was a spirit inside of it, and it knowed everything” (Twain 17).
This claim and the fact that the hair-ball supposedly speaks to Jim show the reader that its knowledge is a way for Jim to compensate for the formal education his race and social inequality have kept from him. In addition, anything the hair-ball tells Jim makes him feel like he can learn even when society sees fit to leave him ignorant. Huck, on the other hand, has no reason not to be able to attend school.
In time, he finds that he does enjoy learning and takes pride in the knowledge he has gained, such as the fact that he “could spell and read and write just a little, and could say the multiplication table up to six times seven is thirty-five” (Twain 15). Huck’s education evidently has its defects, as six times seven is forty-two, but this is because education in the Southern setting of Huck Finn is valued less than in the North. Despite this, it makes a difference in showing where Huck stands on the social ladder, as opposed to Jim. Huck and Jim’s different types of education, affected by their race, are examples of this major part of everyday life that racism alters.
Racial discrimination influences not only one’s access to education, but one’s opinion of themselves and those around them as well. Many black slaves that were constantly shown how “worthless” they were eventually believed it, making them think they were born to work and bear the white man’s burdens. Jim’s perspective is also affected by this belief, including the belief that black men are considered property and not as fellow human beings. He tells Huck that he is “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”” (Twain 47). Jim grasps the concept that to a white man he is only useful for monetary gain, which does make him valuable, but in the wrong sense. Jim also knows that such a large sum of money can give him almost anything, including freedom, but that money will never reach his hands because of racism. This situation prevents him from seeing what he is worth as an individual.
As for Huck, he thinks black people are stubborn and ignorant. This arises in a scene where Jim is trying to convince Huck that an American man cannot speak differently from a Frenchman because they are both men and all men must speak the same way. Jim says this because he has never been taught that people around the world speak different languages. Huck is aware of this and, after much arguing, finally decides that “it warn’t no use wasting words- – you can’t learn a nigger to argue” (Twain 80). Huck is making this assumption about the whole of the African American population simply because one slave has never been taught of the world outside his home. Huck’s stereotype regarding every member of the African race is exactly the kind of idea represented by racism. Through the course of events in Huck Finn, the reader is shown how racism influences Jim and Huck’s views of others and the ways of the world.
Humanity, as a whole, holds numerous strengths and just as many weaknesses, such as racism. When intertwined with literature and its embodiment through fictional characters, the message it conveys about the consequences is exceptionally powerful. Mark Twain’s characters, Huck Finn and Jim, belong to two different cultures with blatantly obvious differences between them. However, these differences are not embraced and create a chasm between them that is widened due to racist ideas. As the plot of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn thickens, the ways in which Huck and Jim conduct themselves show how racism leaves its mark on education, as well as one’s perspective of himself and those around him.