Saturday, April 6, 2024

Inside Jim’s head

A reimagining of Mark Twain's Huck Finn that is likely worth a read:
is based on an ingenious premise: It retells the story of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from the perspective of the black slave Jim. Readers anticipating a takedown of Mark Twain will be either frustrated or relieved, depending on their hopes. Everett, who in the book’s acknowledgments offers “a nod” to Twain’s “humor and humanity,” does not supply a predictable, politically correct attack on the canon. To the contrary, he adopts and extends the criticism of racism present in Twain’s novel. In his portrayal, for example, young Huck is at least as troubled by Jim’s plight and the injustice of slavery as in Twain’s original. Huck remains a character with whom we are permitted, even invited, to sympathize.

The shift from Huck’s to Jim’s perspective, however, enables Everett to sharpen Twain’s critique, lifting it from the level of satire to that of jeremiad (albeit a secular one). The youthful, uneducated voice of Twain’s white protagonist, with his naïve efforts to understand the adult world, was well suited to exposing the hypocrisy of American ideals in the face of racism. But the older voice of the black slave Jim cuts deeper, revealing the full horror of chattel slavery. As he encounters whippings, rapes, and lynchings, we confront the legalized violence and systemic terror of slavery. These are not fully visible to Huck, but they are Jim’s everyday reality.

As James begins, Everett sticks closely to Twain’s original plot. .... (much more)

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