Postcolonial Analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The Multiple “Other”


Jim_and_ghost_huck_finn-300x231Postcolonial literature seeks to examine and to voice the views of the other in literature. The other refers to those outside the hegemony, the dominant influence on the culture. In Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain shows three others.

The first other that Twain shows is perhaps the most obvious—the African-American. The clearest example of the African-American voice is the character Jim. Twain allows Jim’s voice to break through the hegemony by having Jim show character and intelligence, despite his lack of education and his position as a slave. Perhaps the most clear picture of Jim’s character comes when the doctor needs help extracting the bullet from Tom’s leg. Jim, who believed himself to be a runaway slave, gave up his freedom in order to help his friend. Twain praises Jim’s actions by having Uncle Silas and the others treat him with some amount of kindness (refraining from cussing at him) after he is brought back into captivity.  Even before that point, Huck often remarks on Jim’s kindness and intelligence, even though Huck would not have expected such actions or thoughts out of an African-American. Throughout the story, Jim speaks for the African-American people.

The second other that Twain shows is Huckleberry Finn—the young, irreligious, and uneducated. Finn is complemented by his friend and cohort, Tom Sawyer. The end of the story is very similar to the beginning—Huck is trying to escape being “sivilized” and educated. The voice of the uneducated speaks through Huck. Whenever Huck runs into civilized and educated people, he is viewed as an other. However, in contrast to others of different skin color, Huck is looked upon with sympathy more than anything else; though, this “sympathy’ may just be a sort of downward social comparison making the educated and religious believe that Huck and those like him were at a lower status. Twain does not seem to think that religion and education are the answers to all problems, in fact, he may be communicating that sometimes the uneducated and irreligious have greater moral sensitivity than the educated and religious by having Huck and Tom act counter-culturally and sympathetically toward Jim.

The third other that Twain shows is the Native American. This voice is not as loud as the other two voices, but can be faintly heard in Tom and Huck’s letter to Uncle Silas when warning about Jim’s impending escape. Huck’s letter pictures the Native American as Injuns without morality or religion by having an exception to the norm as an “Injun who found religion.” This description communicates the bigotry of the educated, religious, white hegemony.

These three others speak loudly in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and we, the contemporary audience, would do well to listen.

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