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Jim's Side of the Story: Huckleberry Finn
The laboriously chugging engines of the steamboat can still be heard fading away in the distance as the boat travels farther and farther downstream, either unaware or uncaring of the wreckage it leaves in its path. The turbulent waters churn in the wake of the boat, spinning the man and the boy wildly. Chaos and confusion ensue. The boy, dripping with muddy water, sprays the riverbanks with rivulets of condensation as he scrambles out of the river. His unfocused gaze scans the desolate riverbanks in hopes of catching sight of his companion, but to no avail. He whoops several times, each with more resounding desperation than the last, hoping to elicit a response from the man, but no answer sounds. The boy then limps to the closest house and enters, relying on the fair coloring of his skin to appeal to the hospitality of the strangers.
Jim, the man still in the water, proceeds at a slower rate, impeded by his injuries. He follows the boy, covertly, as he does not possess the luxury of race as protection. He does not answer the boy’s heart-wrenching calls for fear of being captured by the seemingly omnipresent pernicious slave-catchers. He does not dare join the boy when he spies him entering the building. The menacing snarls of the agitated dogs further persuade Jim to remain a cautious distance away from the house. He retreats to a secluded area out in the woods.
After a long, arduous night of hours filled with fearful anticipation, dawn finally approaches. Along with the sun’s early rays comes a band of slaves on their morning commute to the fields. They kindly lead Jim to a hidden clearing in the woods, where he will be safe from the dogs’ searching noses, and provide him with victuals. They then proceed onwards to the fields, as they themselves are still shackled by the bondage of slavery.
Jim, now completely alone for the first time since having been joined by his boy companion, Huck, relishes his newfound independence. Although Jim had developed strong paternal feelings toward Huck, the latter’s inherited prejudices and inferred superiority inevitably engendered Jim’s rancor. Thus, inadvertently, on his flight to freedom, Jim seemed to have adopted a new master, albeit a much different, more impressionable, younger one. With his head held high and chest puffed out, Jim abandons Huck and becomes his own master for the time being, having to answer only to himself.
The tussle with the steamboat had devastated Jim and Huck’s supplies; they were left with absolutely nothing, with their raft as the most notable loss. Taking matters into his own hands, Jim resolves to rectify this situation. He decides to leave Huck safe in his oblivion, in the comforts of the caretaking of those who had so kindly taken him in. Sitting on a gnarled stump at the edge of the wooded clearing, Jim waits patiently for the toiling slaves to return.
At midday, with the sun blazing through the cracks of the leafy canopy overhead, Jim hears a curious scratching noise to his left. He assumes it is the slaves arriving a little early, so he bravely ventures a, “Who’s there?” There is no answer; the noise happens once more, creating an eerie echo that reverberates throughout the clearing. Jim grows increasingly anxious, his brow furrowing in consternation, sweat welling up in his many worry wrinkles.
After about five more minutes of trying to determine if another man is indeed in the clearing, Jim appropriates the unidentifiable sound to that of a supernatural presence. “Witches!” he shivers to himself, his superstitions overwhelming him, his paranoia pinning him up against a tree in order to keep his back unexposed. He maintains this rigid vigil for the remaining three hours until the slaves return, only standing up when they are in sight so as to not display any weakness. He brushes himself off, of both earthly debris and the whole supernatural experience, but at the same time dreads the night he will have to spend alone in the woods. Throughout this he maintains an outwardly nonchalant yet authoritative air.
The other slaves immediately enfold Jim into their tight-knit community, providing him with both physical necessities and gossip, but at the same time view him as inherently superior for possessing the courage and inner strength to run away. Because of this, Jim immediately assumes a role of leadership within their small group; Jim readily accepts this responsibility, luxuriating in this newfound power that before he had only experienced at the hands of his masters. Being strong of heart and morals, however, Jim does not succumb to the lure of this authority, and does not abuse it. When he appeals to them for their help in replacing his and Huck’s supplies, he does so with sincere humility.
Surprisingly, the other slaves are not jealous of Jim and his proximity to attaining freedom, but rather wholeheartedly support his efforts. Jim diffuses tension over who would get to keep the raft upon its discovery by cleverly lying about its ownership, saying it was Huck’s: he queries if they were intent on seizing a white man’s property and face being punished for it. Jim quickly regained ownership after this peaceful negotiation and the whole disagreement is quietly dissipated.
After a few more days of accumulating utensils and foodstuffs, it was time to leave. Jim enlists the help of Jack, Huck’s temporary slave during his stay, to retrieve Huck to him like an obedient Labrador puppy. Jim reflects on his vast accomplishment of restocking their supplies, while Huck sat around and played for the few days like the child he truly is. Do I really need him? Indeed, Jim had not required any assistance these past couple of days. Ultimately, his internal conservation ends in true conviction. Well, he is like a son to me. I enjoy his company. Whether I need him or not is not really the question. I can just keep up my act of dependence for his sake. He smiles to himself at the charade he must play.
Huck enters the clearing, and when he catches sight of Jim he cries out with unbridled childish joy. “Why didn’t you tell my Jack to fetch me here sooner, Jim?” Huck asks, perplexed. “Well, ‘twarn’t no use to ‘sturb you, Huck, tell we could do sumfn – but we’s all right now. I ben a-buyin’ pots en pans en vittles, as I got a chanst, en a-patchin’ up de raf’ nights when –“ Jim says with an air of tangible confidence he had acquired from his brief tenure of authority.
Jim’s newfound confidence is lost on Huck, who is still jumping up and down, silly with joy. Jim slyly grins, thinking it better that Huck still believes he actually needs him.