Slavery was always one of the most problematic themes in literature. Whether in fiction or in documentary writings, literature always sought to reveal the hidden facets of slavery and its negative impacts on human lives. Mark Twain?s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Frederick Douglass?s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave are interesting and are common in a sense that both discuss the difficulties and controversies in the lives of slaves. Both discuss the issues slaves had to encounter in their lives, and both use their enslaved characters to re-consider the problem of slavery in broader social contexts. Despite the fact that Mark Twain?s narration looks more like an adventure, and Douglass?s story resembles a profound personal reflection on the difficulties of a slave?s life, both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass confirm the eternal and always relevant truth: eventually, either from escape or through the master?s will, all slaves become free, with slavery being an inherently unnatural instrument of human coercion. That slavery is always associated with separation, neither of the two authors tries to conceal; for Twain?s Jim this separation means to be away from his wife and his child, while for Frederick Douglass the same separation means to lose his mother and to spend his whole life being sent and sold from master to master. ?Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received her tidings of [my mother?s/ death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger? (Douglass). Douglass was never given a chance to know what mother?s love is and what it means to be a child, and separation for Douglass is somewhat different from that Jim is fated to experience. Having never really known his mother?s tenderness, Douglass cannot naturally suffer or experience the true feeling of loss, and as such his fear of losing his family is not as urgent as that of Jim.
For Jim, who knows a sense of attachment and for whom his family is the greatest treasure, to be sold to Orleans is similar to death: ?Well, one night I creeps to de do? pooty late, en de do? warn?t quite shet, en I hear old missus tell de wider she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn? want to, but she could git eight hund?d dollars for me, en it ?uz sich a big stack o? money she couldn? resis?? (Twain). Here, the fear and the fact of separation are also linked to the principles of financial merit ? the principles, which both Twain and Douglass seek to emphasize in their works, and the principles that rule slave owners in their inhumane attempts to treat slaves into inanimate objects. However, neither Jim nor Frederick Douglass is willing to have such fate, and their growing literacy and intelligence are expected to pave the way to their gradual liberation. True, both Jim and Douglass stand out as the two bright examples of the way slaves tried to go beyond the boundaries of their enslaved lives. Where Jim continuously displays his intelligence and wit, Douglass is doing everything possible to learn reading and writing ? the two skills later used by him to get acquainted with the writings about slavery and the ideas of abolitionism. As far as Douglass is forbidden to use his time for reading or writing, and is not allowed to use books from his mistress?s library, he adopts the plan ?by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read? (Douglass). On any errand, a book always accompanies Douglass, and the pieces of bread serve a kind of a salary or material reward to those, who assist Douglass in his writing and reading attempts.
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In case of Jim, however, his desire to accomplish more than other slave and to stand out of the crowd is far from traditional education but borders on his natural intelligence, which he readily expresses and uses in his mystical stories. ?Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn?t touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it? (Twain). Those stories and fantasies signify Jim?s ability to fantasize, to apply his mental abilities, and to persuade the crowd in the truthfulness of his stories. Certainly, it was not until his meeting Huck at the island that his intelligence abilities showed to the fullest, but throughout the story Mark Twain (as well as Douglass) uses education and intelligence as the proof for slaves? being humans and not inanimate objects of labor. It should be noted, that beyond trying to be more intelligent and educated as other slaves, both Jim and Frederick Douglass have a hidden and a never ending desire to become free. For both, freedom is one of their fondest dreams, and for both, such dream always seems something they can finally make true. Although both are gradually coming closer to realize their dreams, and although both understand that their way to becoming free will be slow, dangerous, and difficult, they nevertheless require some kind of a stimuli to realize the full importance of freedom from slavery. For Jim, such stimulus is in his desire to re-unite with his family, which would have become impossible if Mrs. Watson sold him to Orleans. For Frederick Douglass, his education and ability to get acquainted with the writings about abolitionism create a sense of urgency in his wish to finally become free, and meeting Irishman at the wharf confirms his desire to get rid of the slavery oppression: ?The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free? (Douglass). In many aspects, and both Douglass and Twain are correct, freedom for slaves is a matter of life vs. death. Many of them do not have any other choice but to kill themselves to become free; many others risk their lives to escape from such imprisonment. ?Jim asked no questions, he never said a word; but the way he worked for the next half an hour showed about how he was scared. By that time everything we had in the world was on our raft, and she was ready to be shoved out from the willow cove where she was hid? (Twain). In their search for truth, slaves give away everything they have, and do not even think of dangers, which seem a trifle compared to the significance of freedom lurking at the horizon. This is probably why for both Jim and Douglass their dangerous and life-risky adventures are finally rewarded. The true message of both stories is not in the way a slave is fighting for his rights, but in that all slaves eventually become free. Whether through an escape or through their masters? will, the slaves that strive to reject and deny the relevance of legal and social norms are finally granted a unique chance to forever change their lives. ?The wretchedness of slavery, and the blessedness of freedom, were perpetually before me. It was life and death with me. But I remained firm, and, according to my resolution, on the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind? (Douglass). Life is merciful to Douglass; on his way to freedom he encounters people, who are willing to support and help him. In the same manner, life seems merciful to every slave that does not surrender to the conditions of slavery but is continuously trying to prove his right for liberation.
In this context, Jim is somewhat luckier than Douglass, for his master Mrs. Watson old miss Watson ?was ashamed she ever was going to sell him down the river, and said so; and she set him free in her will? (Twain). The message of such liberation is dubious: on the one hand, it confirms the thesis claimed at the beginning of this essay ? that all slaves eventually become free. On the other hand, it also suggests that not all masters are eager to lose their humane features, and still view their slaves as humans. The only question that remains without an answer is in whether a slave has to do anything to become free (as in case with Douglass), or should he hope for mercy on the side of his master (as Jim). Here, life seems to be more merciful to those, who seek the means to become free, do not get passive, and realize the importance of their gradual movement to becoming a member of the free society. Conclusion It is difficult to say, which of the two narrations is more interesting or truthful. Objectively, the two stories shape an objective picture of slavery and add to each other. Certainly, Twain?s epic looks like an adventure, while Douglass?s narrative resembles a documentary account of the tragedies he as a slave had to experience. Nevertheless, both stories are expected to re-interpret the meaning of slavery in broader social contexts. Jim and Frederick Douglass represent the two general images of a true slave, with their rights severely limited, and with freedom being the only thing they can dream of. For both authors, slavery stands out as the sign of complete inhumanness and cruelty; it looks like a misbalanced product of the white society?s search for dominance and coercion. At the same time, both clearly well show that in any kind of a situation, and regardless of the difficulties and dangers, every slave looking for freedom finally becomes free, either through an escape or through his master?s will.
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