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Abstract

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, persistently attacked since 1885 as vulgar and inelegant, has more recently been condemned as elitist, sexist, and racist. The charge of racism turns not only on the pervasive use of the "n" word, but also on a misunderstanding of Jim, the runaway slave, as a minstrel-show stereotype of the powerless simpleton. Urging a reconsideration of Jim's role in light of the literary and psychological features of the captivity narrative, this essay argues that Mark Twain builds the novel around two related forms of captivity: Jim's slavery in the first part of the novel and, in the second part, the joint captivity of Jim and Huck by the Duke and the King. The first half turns on two competing plans: Huck's and Jim's. Huck's is a juvenile plan, open-ended and in search of thrilling adventures. Jim's is an adult plan with specific ends in view: escaping from from slavery at the risk of his life and eventually freeing his wife and children. Huck Finn would like to diminish Jim's manhood, but Mark Twain will not allow it. And when Mark Twain realizes that if he defeats Jim's plan he will be writing a tragedy, he searches for a comic ending--with the ostensibly insuperable difficulties resolved--by turning to parody and by using all the trappings of the traditional captivity narrative for social satire until, when all seems lost, by supplying Tom Sawyer to provide a deeply ambiguous tragi-comic rescue. The final section of the essay provides a brief meditation on that ambiguous resolution.

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