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A Critical Analysis of the Depiction of Social Class and Racism in Mark Twain´s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


1.      INTRODUCTION

2.      THE DEPICTION AND REPRESENTATION OF SOCIAL CLASSES, ILLUSTRATED BY CHARACTERS IN THE NOVEL

2.1      UPPER CLASS REPRESENTED BY THE GRANGERFORD FAMILY

2.1.1      CLOSE READING

2.2      UPPER MIDDLE CLASS REPRESENTED BY THE WIDOW DOUGLAS AND MISS WATSON

2.3 LOWER MIDDLE CLASS REPRESENTED BY HUCKLEBERRY FINN AND HIS FATHER PAP

2.4      LOWER CLASS REPRESENTED BY JIM AS A REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN SLAVES

3     THE DEPICTION OF RACISM BY THE USAGE OF THE TERM ´NIGGER´, SLAVERY AND ITS HISTORIC CONTEXT

3.1      THE SIGNIFICANT USAGE OF THE TERM ´NIGGER´

3.2      THE DEPITCION OF SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES AND ITS HISTORIC CONTEXT

4      CONCLUSION

5      BIBLIOGRAPHY


1.   INTRODUCTION

This paper will investigate the depiction of different social classes and will show how social classes were defined in the American South before the Civil War. Also, I am going to investigate the relationship between racism and the literary protagonist Huckleberry Finn and in which ways Mark Twain deals with the race debate in his novel, including the issue of slavery.

            I chose to analyse Twain´s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, because at it deals with racism and class in a way that was rather common for the time and the area the novel is set, namely in the fictive city of St. Petersburg, Missouri, U.S. in the first half of the 19th century.

Racism has always been an omnipresent topic not only in society but also in literature. Therefore, it is rather interesting how the concept of race was dealt differently with in comparison to the 21st century. Racism is also a contemporary issue, which our society still has to face, taking, for instance, the scepticism towards refugees and the Syrian Civil War into consideration.  In his novel Twain deals with racism by denoting Jim and African-Americans in general as “niggers”, for which he has later been severely criticised and as a result, this word was for a certain period of time changed to “slave”.

What is more, is that social classes had a different self-concept back then and were attributed certain characteristics.

            The aim of this paper is to illustrate that the depiction of slavery in Mark Twain´s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn correlates with social hierarchy in the 19th century and to demonstrate the way racism is thematised in his work.

In my paper I will show how Mark Twain uses stereotypical features to emphasise the differences between social classes in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and how he deals with the subjugation of African-Americans on the example of Jim. Also, it will illustrate how a racist term is used in the novel and what this usage implies. Additionally, the paper shortly deals with slavery in the American South.


2.   THE DEPICTION AND REPRESENTATION OF SOCIAL CLASSES, ILLUSTRATED BY CHARACTERS IN THE NOVEL

2.1  UPPER CLASS REPRESENTED BY THE GRANGERFORD FAMILY

The Grangerford family is the first aristocracy in the area Huckleberry lives. Twain implies the aristocracy even in the title of the chapter. When reading about the physical traits Col. Grangerford features, his belonging to the upper class becomes clear, as they clearly deviate from an ordinary man in the Mississippi area.

He is described as a spotless and also very handsome man, because the ideal of beauty of that time was a high forehead. What also emphasises his aristocracy is that “his hands was long and thin”. Upper-Class people at that time wanted to appear as slim as possible and rejected any muscles as muscles grow through work and would make th.....[read full text]

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Huckleberry is an unreliable narrator as well, because he often changes his views and even tells the reader that he is about to tell a lie.

      The passage primarily focuses on the description of Col. Grangerford. There is no dialogue and no talking in general, only describing his appearance to demonstrate the close look Huckleberry takes at him.

      This scene displays the Grangerford family, especially Colonel, as a likable representative of aristocracy. However, one also gets the impression that the general image of the upper class is satirised by only mentioning positive aspects, because we later learn that they possess hundreds of slaves and also have a conflict with the Sheperdsons, another wealthy family.

            Culturally and historically, the passage shows the perception of beauty at Twain´s time. This is emphasised, for instance, by a high forehead and thin hands. Both features stood for wealth back then, which through a 21st century lens can hardly be understood.

Pale, thin hands were seen as an indication for wealth, as upper class people delegated all their work to their slaves, who were comparatively muscular from doing hard work.

            In sum, the effect on the reader is an increased consciousness of aristocratic appearance, as well as the close observation Huckleberry Finn does, who describes every detail and is in the beginning blinded by the kindness. This clearly foreshadows that the Grangerford family has a dark side as well, which is at first glance hidden by their fair appearance, but then becomes prominent when they have a gun battle with members of the Sheperdson family.


2.2  UPPER MIDDLE CLASS REPRESENTED BY THE WIDOW DOUGLAS AND MISS WATSON

Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson, who take Huckleberry in to educate and raise him, represent the well-situated middle class of the American South. Both are rather educated and reasonably wealthy as they live in a house, own a slave called Jim and teach Huckleberry table manners and tell him stories of the bible, which is a typical feature of American middle class as religion is very important to them, particularly to women.

            Generally, the middle class of the Pre-Civil-War-era represents the idea of progress with regard to education, economy, religious beliefs and the assignment of new roles within the family. According to Jonathan Daniel Wells, people of the American South had been inspired by this idea of progress by members of the American North middle class (885). This is illustrated perfectly by the household of Widow Douglas.

            Another feature, which underlines my assumption that Widow Douglas is a representative of the upper middle class, is that she is in the possession of slaves. According to Wells, this is a great and symbolic distinction between upper middle class and lower middle class, as those who owned slaves were feeling superior .....

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Consequently, many of them became independent farmers who tried, on the contrary to Huckleberry´s father, to make enough money to nourish their family. The jealousy of the African-American´s job in the plantation system, explains why Huckleberry´s father is a rather racist character, as is emphasised towards the end of the novel.

            After the Civil War, however, the lower middle class was still excluded from economy. Retrospectively, this is a rather unexpected fact, as one would imagine that after the end of slavery there would have been enough positions available for the working class people.

            According to Posey and Eaton, planters immediately started exploiting both groups, namely the African-Americans and the white working class, which led, eventually, to a tenant system, in which everybody was equally exploited (494).  


2.4  LOWER CLASS REPRESENTED BY JIM AS A REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN SLAVES

Jim, who is in the beginning characterised as stupid and superstitious, because superstition was commonly perceived as being dull, is representative for the oppressed lower class, namely the slaves.

This is demonstrated by the passage in which Jim is outwitted by Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry. He falls asleep under a tree outside and claims the next day that he has been bewitched, which he tells many other African-Americans in the surrounding area and gains local fame among the slaves.

Slavery was considered a necessity, because white people would feel that them being free people would endanger their “species” as such. Moreover, the slaves were a fundamental factor that caused economic success. Many African-Americans worked on cotton plantations, which, economically, was the most profitable sector.

The reason for letting them do this hard work was that society considered this work as too demanding and inappropriate for white people, which links together with the above mentioned unemployment of the white lower middle class.

According to Thornton and Wyatt-Brown, slaves barely got into touch with their upper class masters, because they seldom stayed at the place, slaves were kept to work. Instead, they nominated minders to manage the procedures a.....

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The novel teaches the reader that African-Americans do have the right of being labelled as humans rather than being equalised with animals, because they think in the same way white people do, namely in a rational way.

3.2 THE DEPITCION OF SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES AND ITS HISTORIC CONTEXT

What Twain also satirises with respect to education is that the Widow Douglas always talks about “sivilization” and “sivilizing Huckleberry” even though slavery was very prominent at that time (Barksdale 17-20). Through a 21st century lens, one can say that slavery was an indicator for an uncivilised society, as the North considered the slave dealing as a highly controversial topic, whereas the South considered the slave trade as an economic advantage towards the North.

            Furthermore, when taking the historical development of the United States into consideration, one will realise that a rather large part of U.S. history has been coined by slavery, starting with the enslavement of Native Americans in 1492, when America was discovered.

Being on the same level with African-American slaves, Native Americans were granted equal justice, a benefit African-Americans did not possess. Barksdale states that at the time of the story over four million of African-Americans were kept as slaves, whereas the number of male African-Americans outweighed female African-Americans as they were a more useful workforce.

According to him, being a slave meant to have a legal status comparable to that of an animal. Usually slaves and even their children and grandchildren were bound to the house they served until they died, if they were not sold. They must not move beyond the border of their working place, which was in many cases limited to the house or the borders of their owner´s property (17-20).

            Consequently, Jim´s escape can be considered as a scandalous act of severe disobedience, which the white population at that time had barely experienced before. Being disobedient or not hardworking enough, was usually punished with severe beatings that in some cases even lead to the servant´s death.

            However, the overall impression is that Jim is a content slave, as the Widow Douglas treats him rather well. As one learns in the course of the novel that Jim´s escape was rather initiated by getting sold to an area, where the conditions for African-American slaves were even worse than in Missouri, than being dissatisfied or treate.....

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Rather it can be seen as an ordinary phenomenon, because the term was not considered to imply racism explicitly. With this novel, Twain wants to educate the reader towards an unbiased contact with the social construct race and to give an understanding of the social and cultural circumstances at this time.



5      BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alberti, John. "The Nigger Huck: Race, Identity, and the Teaching of Huckleberry Finn." College English 57.8 (1995): 919-937. Web.

Barksdale, Richard K. "History, Slavery, and Thematic Irony in Huckleberry Finn." Mark Twain Journal 22.2 (1984): 17-20. Web.


Budd, Louis J. New Essays on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.


Leonard, J. S., and Thadious M. Davis. Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. Print.


Posey, Walter B., and Clement Eaton. "The Mind of the Old South." The Journal of American History 51.3 (1964): 494. Web.

Thornton, J. Mills and Bertram Wyatt-Brown. "Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South." The American Historical Review 88.3 (1983): 753. Web.


Walkowitz, Daniel J., and Jonathan Daniel Wells. "The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800-1861." The Journal of Southern History 71......


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