Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just Read, Enjoyed and Marveled at "The Jim Dilemma" by Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua

The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn by Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As a long-time Mark Twain aficionado (white, 58, grew up in a very white world in the Pacific NW), I was very taken with this book. I was out of the loop about "the controversy" re: the Jim character and whether or not Twain was a racist. The book was a real eye-opener for me in that regard. Now I want to poll my African-American friends and discover what they think of the novel -- and if they don't love it every bit as much as I did, I will refer them to Chadwick-Joshua's book if they regard Twain as a racist or Jim as an Uncle Tom!

Not once during reading THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN did I discern a racist attitude in its author. I twitched and twisted ruefully as Twain carefully revealed racism as it existed during the times in which the novel takes place (pre- and post-Civil War) but attributed it to his acute observation of people, places and his times, not to his own (contrary)belief system.

Of course he saw racism. As a child living in Missouri, he probably saw little else: it was all around him, even in the pulpit. (Even to this day, Sunday religious observances are reportedly "the most-segregated hour of the week" in most churches). But just like Huck Finn, the more often Twain was exposed to the African American slave plight and to slave-owners as a youngster and teenager, the more he recognized the attitude and behaviors for what they were.

I think Chadwick-Joshua does an exemplary job of peeling back the layers of Twain's book and exposing exactly what he was trying to say during a time when most folks really didn't want to be educated out of their biases and presumptions. He had to tread a mighty fine line. He had to show what the prevailing attitudes were, both north and south, and the inherent dangers of changing one's mind or allegiance during that period in America history.

I always felt that Jim was the hero and that Twain "channeled" him very well, so that readers would be carried -- willingly or not -- into admitting to themselves that slavery was far more than a "peculiar institution," -- it was Perdition to those who had to endure it. And Twain shows, too, that Reconstruction was no picnic, either... not that any year since then has been particularly jubilant for the African American until November 4, 2008.

Both books (Chadwick-Joshua's and Twain's) belong in every library. Yes, it hurts to see what has been done to other fellow sojourners in our country, but it's also instructive. Those who want to push away the history that we all wish hadn't happened, by banning Twain's most enduring legacy as a writer, are misguided at best. I hope those who feel negatively about THE ADVENURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN or Mark Twain will read this tome and then re-read Twain's book. The insights you'll discover will open eyes in the way Twain intended.

Jim is a hero. Always was to Twain -- always will be to me.

Bravo, Jocelyn!

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1 comment:

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