Misadventures of Jim

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Big Books Home

2006 Fifth Web Report

On Serendip

Misadventures of Jim

Adina Halpern

The following manuscript was found in 1900 on the banks of the Mississippi River. Its author refers to himself as "Jim." The events recorded in the manuscript are extremely similar to those involving one Huckleberry Finn shortly before the Civil War. In fact, it is speculated that the author of this manuscript is the slave (who was later freed) who accompanied Huckleberry Finn on his adventures. Pages of the manuscript seem to be missing, and much of it is torn and appears to be weathered to the point of illegibility.

The manuscript is recorded not in the dialect of southern slaves but in modern-day English. This seems to be because Jim could not write and so would have had to dictate his story to someone else. The only word used throughout the manuscript that is not in common use today (and is in fact an extremely offensive word) is the word "nigger." It seems that the author would have included that word because Jim used it so many times throughout the story and because it highlights the racial nature of this book:

...I did not sleep at all that night because Miss Watson's problem required my full attention. The next day, I was exhausted, but my work still had to be completed. As I was finishing up some of my chores in the kitchen, I heard a rustle outside. I thought it might a rat. I can remember thinking that Miss Watson would be very disturbed if she did in fact have rats in her house, when I heard the sound again. I realized that the house and Miss Watson might be in danger.

I went outside to see who was there. At first, I simply asked, "Who dah?" When no one replied and the sound continued, my worry grew. I called out, "Say—who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I didn' hear sumf'n. Well, I knows what I's gwine to do. I's gwine to set down here and listen tell I hears it agin." (18). I sat down outside.

I was not actually very worried, but I thought that I would scare anyone who was there away. I had a feeling it was Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and perhaps some of their friends; those children were always up to no good. I blamed the Sawyer kid. He was always reading those adventure novels and he didn't quite seem to grasp the difference between novels and reality. He was not a bad child, and I knew that he never really meant to hurt anyone, but he never seemed to realize that his actions had consequences.

Poor Huck idolized him. I saw him follow that boy around all the time and get himself into so much trouble; something about Tom bewitched him. The irony in all this was that Huck really had been through a lot. His mother had died, and his pap was a violent and mentally disturbed alcoholic. At the time, we thought he had died, and that was why Huck was living with the Widow in the first place, but I don't think that she could really give him the guidance he would have received in a normal family of white folks.

Tom had the luxury of a family. Unlike my own, it was a free family. His adventures always ended when he went home to the comfort of his family. He would act out these scenarios, but they would always end in a realization of just how lucky he really was. Huck did not quite seem to grasp this, and he admired Huck's sense of adventure and even his ability to cope with what Huck perceived to be real and often dangerous situations. His own life really was full of adventures. Later, he would rely on these "games" for his own survival. He would become the person who would receive the most help from whichever person on whom he was playing the game or trick.

I could relate to Huck. I remember feeling constant terror as a child, and being torn apart from my mother. When I was young, I would see other children and want to be just like them – whenever something in their lives went wrong, everything was usually sorted out in a matter of days. (Often that "sorting out" involved physically punishing me.) Huck's life as an orphan and the life that I remember having as a slave child were extremely different, but we both knew what it was like to have uncertainty and no control over our own lives. We both differed from Tom in this way that Tom would probably never understand – in a way that I hoped Tom never would understand, because it is a life that no one deserves. As long as Tom had the freedom, happiness, and structure, he could continue his adventures that always, inevitably, ended.

As these thoughts ran through my head, I began to lose focus. I was extremely tired from not having slept the night before. I must have drifted off to sleep, because when I woke up, my hat was no longer on my head. I thought it might have slipped off, but when I looked around, I saw it hanging on a limb of the tree under which I must have fallen asleep. I must have looked like quite a fool looking around like that, but a few seconds I had to laugh; it was actually really funny. I knew, then, that the intruders must have been those children. They must have thought it was really funny playing a trick on an old nigger like me. Maybe I should have been offended, but I wasn't. After all, they played tricks anyone they could find – not only niggers. They were only children, and I was glad that they had the freedom to spend their time playing those kinds of tricks on people.

When I went back into the house, I realized that some of Miss Watson's candles were missing. I knew that those children had taken them. Miss Watson was not a poor woman and she could always buy more candles, but she would still be extremely angry, and someone would have to take the blame. That someone would probably be me.

I had to think of a way to let Miss Watson know that I had not taken the candles, but I couldn't tell her what had actually happen. If she knew that Huck, Tom, and their friends had taken the candles, those children would have been in a lot of trouble. Besides, there was no saying that she would actually believe me. I could easily imagine myself being punished for putting the blame on poor, innocent children. Furthermore, I could have gotten in trouble for knowing that the robbery was taking place and for not stopping it.

As Huck would later have to do, I came up with a story for my own survival. So I "said the witches bewitched [me] and put [me] in a trance, and rode [me] all over the State, and then set [my] hat on a limb to show who had done it" (19). Of course, Miss Watson did not believe the story – no one in her right mind would have believed it. But it was so sensational that Miss Watson blamed my inability to stop the robbery on my own supposed simple-mindedness and stupidity.

She was amazed that someone would really believe that. To her, it was much less believable than the stories in her bible. (Personally, I thought that some of those stories were much more unbelievable than those I had heard and told that involved witches.) She wanted me to repeat the story to her friends, but I knew that in order to keep up the façade, I had to make the story even more sensational. So the "next time [I] told it [I] said they rode [me] down to New Orleans; and after that, every time [I] told it [I] spread it more and more, till by and by [I] said they rode [me] all over the world, and tired [me] most to death, and [my] back was all over saddle-boils." I was amazed that they actually believed me, and I "was monstrous proud about it" (19).

Even though the story changed so much every time, people really thought I believed it! I was amazed! So I got the last laugh. Sometimes it's just easier to act the way people expect you to act. If I had not continued to make up stories such as this one, the way that people saw me would have changed. In a way, the consequences of this might have been positive. Perhaps could have disproved the untrue stereotype of the superstitious happy-go-lucky nigger; but because the stereotype was false in the first place, I really think that there was very little that I could have done. (This stereotype is even more prevalent now, in 1900. People are starting to say that niggers were happy as slaves; that in slavery, our only cares were simple, and that we were treated with care by our paternal masters, who cared for us.) Instead, I was able to use my sharp wit when I needed it most, to Miss Watson's place to Jackson's Island.

...At this point, the manuscript once again becomes difficult to decipher. Here at Norton, our experts are able to gather that Jim, as he implies above, escaped to Jackson Island where he encountered Huckleberry Finn who had also escaped to the island after staging his own death. This trickery about which Jim writes continues throughout the novel. Not only does Huck trick the people he meets along the way, often for his own survival, as well as Jim's survival. For example, when he believes that Tom's Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas Phelps are going to sell Jim further south where the treatment of slaves is even crueler, he pretends that he is Tom Sawyer. When the real Tom Sawyer appears, begins to help Huck in his plan, even though he knew that Miss Watson had died two months earlier and written in her will that Jim was to be set free. Once again, Huck's adventures were survival and Tom's were for no discernible reason other than his own fun.

However, where Huck leaves Jim in the manuscript, Huck chooses to be free and to "light out for the Territory ahead of the rest" (296). Jim says that Aunt Sally was willing to adopt Huck but that the rejected the offer because he thought she was going to try to "sivilize" him. He recalls Huck telling him, "I can't stand it. I been there before." This greatly contradicts the idea that Huck's adventures were driven truly out of a need for survival and that he would not have lived such a life if he had had the choice. Perhaps Jim got it all wrong. Or maybe this is proof that human beings are multi-dimensional creatures and there were multiple driving forces behind the adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Work Cited:
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1884; rpt. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Thomas Cooley. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1999.

| Course Home | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:36 CDT