Jim to Huck: “I hain’t ever done no harm to a ghos, doan’ hurt me.”

In Literature, The Hero’s Journey often starts out with the main character feeling uncomfortable with his or her situation. Then, he is forced or drawn into an adventure in some unknown territory. In books like The Odyssey by Homer or The Hobbit by Tolkien. the main character also feels driven to solve a monumental problem or seek to capture an extremely rare and valuable treasure. Once the hero leaves his home base, he must also undergo drastic changes. In one way of looking at this process, he must die symbolically and take on a new persona as he interacts with many difficult and unexpected challenges. He must also acquire allies and tools that will help him to advance toward his goal. Note how Heroic Literature has much in common with many modern video games. In both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and in Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain provides examples that he was very familiar with the patterns of The Heroic Journey, even long before Campbell described them in The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949). Twain mentions Walter Scott’s chivalrous tales of Robin Hood, the stories of Sir Lancelot and King Arthur and the satiric journeys of Don Quixote in his two books we are discussing here. He closely follows the pattern of the Heroic Journey in Tom Sawyer, where Tom sets out to find a buried treasure and capture the love of his sweetheart, Becky Thatcher. After he achieves both of those goals, he returns home richer, happier, and more highly revered by the citizens of his home town. Even though The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn also meets several of the essential elements of the Heroic Journey, it is a much more complex story than Tom Sawyer, and Twain introduces readers to some significant variations to the standard Hero’s Journey model.

Heroic Journey

Huck Finn has two main reasons to leave his home-the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri. He embarks on his journey after he feels squeezed by the soft entanglements of being sivilized by Miss Watson and because he fears that he will be killed by his “Pap” during one of his many drunken stupors. To escape, he stages a scene that strongly suggests that he has been killed and dragged to the river by thieves. His ruse is so brilliant that his “Pap” and all the citizens of his town believe he has been murdered. Huck thinks that his scheme was so clever that even Tom Sawyer would have been proud of it. The act of his staged death symbolizes that the old Huck Finn has died and the new one will need to be reformed on his new journey. To escape, he glides on a canoe to Jackson Island, a nearby hideaway he was first introduced to by his sidekick, Tom Sawyer.

At this early stage of his journey, Huck does not have any other mission than to get away from his home. He roams the island for several days gathering wild berries before he hears the sound of something or someone crawling along the bushes. Suddenly, Jim, the runaway slave of Miss Watson jumps out of the bushes and stares wildly at Huck. Dropping to his knees he put his hands together in a prayerful position and begs, “Doann hurt me…I hain’t ever done no harm to a ghos.” Jim comically attempts to reason with what he thinks is Huck’s ghost by telling him that he “alwuz liked dead people and done all I could for them.” He pleads with the ghost to get back in the river, where dead people belong and “doan do nuffin to Ole Jim” who was “awluz yo’ fren’.” This interaction starts the unlikely association of these two very different people, who will ultimately get to learn a lot more about each other and about what is most important in life during their Heroic Journey than they ever would have if they had remained home. Huck asks Jim how long has he been on the island. Jim replies, “I come heah de night arter you’s killed.” Jim’s viewing of him as a ghost symbolizes that Huck’s old self is dead and he is at the beginning stages of a long journey of rebirth. Also, Twain’s introduction of Jim’s Negro dialect introduces an element of charm and authenticity to the story and points out some important differences between the two main characters. Jim is highly superstitious, but at the same time, highly practical. Huck is only about 13 years old and, like many teenage boys, seeking an adventure to anyplace but home.  However, Jim’s situation is even more precarious than Huck’s. He is a full-grown adult who left his wife and two young children behind to escape the plight of being sold to a plantation in New Orléans. He hopes to escape to a free state and earn enough money to free his family. Although Jim is bold and usually practical, he has no plan or means to carry out his mission. As a runaway slave, he was likely to soon get recaptured without Jim’s help. After encountering Jim, Huck acknowledges that he was very glad to see him and works hard to convince him that he isn’t dead. Before the characters can define their mission or conceive of the means to achieve it, they must survive the challenges of primitive island living. Huck suggests that they make a fire and cook something. But, Jim overrules him by pointing out that there is no use of making a fire because there is nothing to cook. “You got a gun, hain’t you,? he replies. ” Den we kin git sumfin better den strawberries.” With this suggestion, the runaway slave gives the younger boy a sensible, fatherly command that sparks the beginning of a new alliance: “Now you kill sumfin,” he says, “en I’ll make a fire.” Thus, Huck acquires his first ally in his Heroic Journey and learns a new set of survival skills from a slave. But, he is still lacking a clear purpose to prompt his to move ahead to the next stage. ThroughoutThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we these two main characters supporting each other in unexpected ways as they set out on one of the most exciting and memorable adventures in literature.  In the next Litchatte column, I will discuss how Huck discovers the purpose of his Heroic Journey.

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Dr. Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education from Temple University (1973), a Master’s Degree of Arts in English Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech (1988). He is married and has three adult daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. He is the founder and chief editor of this literary blog and is an editor for the International Correctional Education Journal. He is Co-Editor of the 2017 Poetry Book, Mystic Verses by Shambhushivananda. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, and the Facilities Planning Committee Coordinator at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, VA, and writes a monthly column for the Museum website, thepoeblog.org. He has taught literature classes on Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and F.Scott Fitzgerald (thus far) at the OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond. He is the organizer and Coördinator of The First Fridays Classic Book Club, and is the co-organizer, along with Rebecca Elizabeth Jones, of the VCU Working Titles Book Club. Contact Murray at ellisonms2@vcu.edu, or leave a Comment at the bottom of any post.

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