Recently in GHEnglish we just finished reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and after reading it we had to write an essay or do a project on the book, and I decided to do an essay. There were many essay prompts given to us to choose from, and the one that really stuck out to me was the one that read, “Lionel Trilling says that Jim is Huck’s “true father”. Defend or refute this statement.” I think that this particular prompt stuck with me because in some of my double entry journals, which we had to do while reading the book, I had already touched on the subject of Jim being like a father figure to Huck, and I wanted to go deeper into those initial thoughts in the form of an essay.
What is a father? Wikipedia says that a father is the male parent of a child, but for many people, a father is more than that. In our society today, a father is considered a provider, a protector, a leader, a caregiver, and so much more. Fathers teach their children how to behave and act as role models, showing their children how to approach the world and how to succeed.
So where does that leave Huck Finn? His father is abusive, a drunk, and does not provide care or support to Huck at all. Huck is left stranded without someone to guide him, almost without a father at all, and instead he’s stuck with someone who only holds him back and doesn’t allow him to experience life. Huck recounts how Pap has mistreated him, saying how, “… by-and-by pap got too handy with his hick’ry, and I couldn’t stand it. I was all over welts. He got to going away so much, too, and locking me in. Once he locked me in and was gone three days. It was dreadful lonesome” (Twain 25). A child cannot grow and thrive in an environment where they’re beaten into submission, all of their intuition and drive being beaten out of them. A father is supposed to help a child grow, not hinder it, and in Huck’s life his real father is no father at all.
During the story of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck still grows and learns under the guidance of someone, that someone being Jim instead of Pap. Throughout the book, we can see clear points in which Jim helps Huck grow and cares for Huck like a father would his child, allowing Huck to develop into a better person overall. Huck often takes notice of the things Jim does for him, recalling how, “I went to sleep, and Jim didn’t call me when it was my turn. He often done that” (Twain 180). Jim is acting as Huck’s father-figure in situations like this, making sacrifices so that Huck can benefit from them. The little things that Jim does for Huck like letting Huck sleep show how Jim truly cares for Huck like a child. This sort of fatherly love and care can be seen not only through Jim’s actions, but also through his words. When Huck returns to the boat, Jim is filled with relief and joy, saying:
Goodness gracious, is dat you Huck? En you ain’ dead–you ain’ drownded–you’s back
again? It’s too good fro true, honey, it’s too good for true. Lemme look at you, chile, lemme feel o’ you. No, you ain’ dead! You’s back agin, ‘live en soun’, jis de same ole Huck–de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness! (91).
The selfless care which is pouring out of Jim upon Huck’s return is similar to that of a protective parent, doting on their child after they were worried about them, which is almost exactly the scenario that played out after Huck was lost on the river. The way that Jim feels and acts towards Huck is what one would expect from a good, loving father, giving Huck something he’d never had up until this point.
Some may argue that Jim wasn’t truly Huck’s father, and that the relationship the two shared was merely a close friendship, but the bond between them was deeper than that of two friends. Friends are there to stand by you through troublesome times and help you through them, while fathers are there to help ease the hardships of troublesome times, often trying to protect their child from troubles all together in order to keep their child unjaded, pure, and innocent, not hardened by the hardships of the world. Jim acts like a father to Huck when he keeps Huck from figuring out that the dead man in the house is Huck’s biological father, Pap. Jim plays off this feat fairly well by saying:
It’s a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked, too. He’s ben shot in de back. I reck’n he’s ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan’ look at his face–it’s too gashly. I didn’t look at him at all. Jim throwed some old rags over him, but he needn’t done it; I didn’t want to see him (56).
Jim keeps the fact that Pap was shot dead in a greasy old salon away from Huck solely in order to protect him from any sadness or pain that he might have felt about seeing his dead father, in this moment acting as more of a father to Huck that Pap ever was.
It can be said that Huck has two fathers, a biological father who abuses him and is a terrible father, and an unrelated man who acts as a nurturing and protective father figure. Jim’s pure, unadulterated love and caring for Huck is what makes the argument that Jim is Huck’s father so valid, since Jim is able to look past the glaring difference between the two of them that the society of that time so heavily stresses and care for Huck just the same as he would his own children, finally giving Huck the father he deserves.