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An Unexpected Friendship
Like the hummingbird which helps pollinate a flower in return for nectar, human beings too help each other out in symbiotic relationships. Such is the case of the most unexpected duo of antebellum America, a white boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim, from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout the course of the novel, Huckleberry Finn and Jim provide for each other what the other cannot provide for himself and, meanwhile, develop an intimate relationship uncommon in their society.
Huck, being a white boy in a South still under the "peculiar institution," gives to Jim a great deal of protection throughout Jim's quest for freedom. From the beginning of the novel, Huck protects Jim from being discovered, and endeavors to keep him hidden. When Huck encounters two men chasing runaway slaves, they ask him who is on the raft, and Huck lies to them, saying that he is travelling with his white father. Huck then ingeniously makes the men believe that his "Pap's got the smallpox" (93) and scares them away. Huck elaborates this lie solely to protect his friend Jim, and if Huck did not do what he did, Jim would inevitably have been sold off into slavery again. Huck protects Jim again when the two add the King and the Duke to their company, and they start questioning Huck about Jim. To ward off the King and the Duke's suspicions that Jim is a runaway slave, Huck fabricates yet another lie to account for their hiding in the daytime, and convinces the iniquitous duo that Jim is actually Huck's slave. Huck's protection of Jim is indispensable and had he told the duo the truth, they would have immediately stolen Jim and sold him off. This protection that Huck provides for Jim is something that Jim cannot provide for himself. SOMETHING HERE
Jim provides for Huck love and care, and becomes Huck's father figure, bypassing all social boundaries regarding race that are present. Jim is the only character in the whole novel that genuinely loves Huck, and the only one who Huck does not have to lie to. When Jim and Huck get separated during a traumatic episode in the fog, Jim thought that Huck was dead and his "heart wuz mos' broke bekase [Huck] wuz los', en [he] didn' k'yer no' mo' what become er [him] en de raf'." (89) The form of unconditional love that Jim has for Huck is truly genuine and is also something that is bizarre to Huck who has never really been loved. This presence of a legitimate father figure is completely new to Huck and although he has a biological father, Pap doesn't love Huck; he only loves the money that Huck has. Jim, on the other hand, loves Huck for who he is and possesses unquestionable love for Huck. Throughout the novel, Jim repeatedly calls Huck "honey," an indication of affection, which Jim undoubtedly has for Huck. After Jim is sold off to Uncle Silas, Huck reflects back on how Jim "would always call [him] honey, and pet [him]" (207) and realizes that Jim is the only one who had ever actually loved him. For a white boy raised in the South to contemplate so much about a black man, Jim really must have loved Huck, and must have made a truly profound impact on Huck. Jim's love for Huck is relentless and his actions, his doing "everything he could think of for [Huck]," (207) strongly echoes parental love. This love is wholly foreign to Huck, and Jim perpetuates for him what was previously elusive.
The intricate symbiotic relationship between Huck and Jim testifies to the inherently hostile culture that the two are living in. Their relationship demonstrates the predicament of blacks in antebellum America but also depicts a rare bond between black and white. Although Jim is human, more so than some of the "superior" whites, he is deprived of his freedom and must live in constant fear due to the color of his skin. Jim is required perpetually to travel with Huck in order to not get sold off into slavery again. This demonstrates the degree of racism embedded into this culture, and exposes the hypocrisy of a culture which was based on the idea that "all men are created equal" and, at the same time, openly denies a man his freedom. In addition, Huck and Jim's relationship is also built on trust, which human beings universally need in their search for growth and happiness. Jim's absolute trust in Huck is apparent quite early on in their relationship when he declares that Huck is "de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to ole Jim." (92) Although Huck is more gradual in developing his tie with Jim, he eventually does, and his friendship with Jim becomes so strong that he is willing to "go to hell" (207) in order to save Jim. In a racist society such as the one Huck and Jim are living in, the fact that a white boy is ready to go to hell to save a black man is extremely profound. This strong of a relationship goes against all norms, but testifies all the more to the happiness that they share together when they are alone.
Huck and Jim might have begun their relationship solely for companionship, but by the end, they became intimate friends, even family. This relationship between a white boy and a black man was quite rare during their time. Their symbiotic friendship surpasses the social barriers of their epoch and foreshadows the emancipation for black people in the near future.