'I knowed he was white inside'


Material Information

'I knowed he was white inside' Huckleberry Finn and stereotype in the twentieth-century southern novel
Huckleberry Finn and stereotype in the twentieth-century southern novel
Physical Description:
vii, 204 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Abernathy, Jeff
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
American fiction -- Southern States   ( lcsh )
American fiction -- 20th century   ( lcsh )
African Americans in literature   ( lcsh )
English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1991.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 201-203).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Jeff Abernathy.
General Note:
General Note:

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 027013003
oclc - 25604919
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Full Text








I am grateful to John Seelye for his encouragement and

counsel as a teacher and for his insight as a critic. In

reading his work, I began to see the novels I consider here

in new ways. I am likewise indebted to David Leverenz, who

guided this study through his enormously helpful critiques.

Anne Jones fostered my interest in southern literature, and

her support has been invaluable to me. I am grateful to

Andrew Gordon and Bertram Wyatt-Brown for their analyses of

this project as it developed.

My father, Richard Abernathy and my mother, Lois

Abernathy, have encouraged and supported me throughout the

progress of this work, as have my sisters, Stephanie and

Laura Wade. My grandparents, Richard and Neta Abernathy,

have always given me their love and support. My uncle, Doug

Abernathy, has given me good advice and much encouragement.

I am obliged to Padgett Powell for the use of the

manuscript copies of his first novel, Edisto, and for

instruction in writing extending beyond paper and pen.

I am likewise indebted to many friends who have offered

their support and encouragement. In particular, Jim

Ferneyhough, for reasons I'm yet to understand, has shown

confidence in me that I couldn't have done without. Mike

Disch, Jim Iddings, and Jim Papian have each encouraged me

as this work developed and commiserated with me through its

protracted stalls. I owe a lot to my friend Mike Crocker.

He has listened without complaint to a long and often

tedious list of nagging apprehensions and dubious

philosophies over the past few years, straightening me out

more than once.

I am especially grateful to Dawn Corrigan, who

maintained reason--even when I utterly lacked it--through

the various fits and starts of this work. Her readings of

the numerous drafts helped me find my focus when it was




ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . . . . ii

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . . v


CHAPTER 1 TO HELL AND BACK . . . . . . . .. 9


CHAPTER 3 SURROGATE MOTHERS . . . . . . .. .78


CHAPTER 5 'NO-MAN'S LAND' . . . . . . .. .137


CONCLUSION .. . . . . ..................... .199

WORKS CITED . . . . . o.................... .201

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .... . . . ................ .203

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Jeff Abernathy

December, 1991

Chairperson: John Seelye
Major Department: English

This study analyzes the African-American figure in Mark

Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in the southern

novel of the twentieth century. In Twain's novel, Huck

grows to see Jim as an individual removed from stereotype,

and Twain's apparent intention is to demonstrate such moral

growth in his protagonist. In the final third of the novel,

however, Jim is reduced to the minstrelsy from which Huck

had earlier rescued him in his celebrated decision to "go to

hell." Twain thus returns Jim to the very literary

stereotype he had initially challenged.

Many white southern novelists of the twentieth century

follow Twain in portraying a white protagonist's moral

growth through his relationship with an older character of

color. Like Twain, however, the majority of these writers

return their protagonists' mentors to stereotype. The study

considers William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses and Intruder in

the Dust; Elizabeth Spencer's A Voice at the Back Door;

Carson McCullers's Member of the Wedding; Harper Lee's To

Kill a Mockingbird; Sara Flanigan's Sudie; and Kaye Gibbons'

Ellen Foster. These southern liberals return to Twain's

model because, as Huck would have it, it is so "free and

easy": the protagonists' hard-won resolve finally costs them

very little and their society nothing. These "white saints"

are ultimately valorized not for setting their companions

free but for constricting them all over again.

The study further addresses the treatment of such

relationships in three novels by African-Americans: Richard

Wright's Native Son, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Alice

Walker's Meridian. Each of these writers repudiates and

ultimately rewrites the archetypal relationship between Huck

and Jim, determining that the figure of the white saint is

inherently deceitful and condescending.

In conclusion, the study considers two contemporary

southern novels by white writers, Ellen Douglas's Can't Quit

You, Baby and Padgett Powell's Edisto, each of which

effectively undermines Twain's return to stereotype while

continuing to employ the larger motifs of his novel. These

writers portray African-American characters as autonomous

figures, and the moral growth of the white protagonists

develops beyond the relationship to the world itself.



A persistent theme in the American literature of the

nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the development of a

white character through a relationship with a man or woman

of color. Among nineteenth century works, one thinks of

Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, Melville's Moby Dick, and

Harris' Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings, to name only

the most prominent. In each of these works, a man of color

attends the physical or intellectual development of a white

protagonist, whether it be through the devotion of a

Chingachgook or a Queequeg or through the provincial wisdom

of an Uncle Remus.

In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain alters

the pattern profoundly in portraying a white character who

experiences moral growth through his relationship with a

black man. Whereas the escaped slave Jim initially

resembles the minstrel and mammy figures seen in black

characters of earlier southern novels, Twain swiftly

complicates his character by portraying Jim's emotional and

physical longings. Likewise, Huck Finn's identity

ultimately depends upon his decisions regarding Jim. When

Huck apologizes to Jim following the fog sequence, he has

begun to sense Jim's basic humanity, and when Huck decides

at the climax of the novel to "go to hell" (271) and steal

Jim out of slavery, he apparently succeeds in escaping the

hypocritical and corrupt southern society which formed him.

Had he instead elected to return Jim to slavery, we would

surely view him as an out-and-out moral failure. In such

scenes, Huck, like Twain, removes Jim from stereotype and

comes to see him as an individual.

As many critics have observed, however, Huck's eventual

return to southern society is accompanied by a return to

stereotype, exposing the superficial nature of his moral

development. On the Phelps's farm, Jim, no longer

significant to Huck's growth, reverts to minstrelsy at the

hands of Huck and his deceptive friend Tom Sawyer. The

moral growth which Huck experiences on the river never has

affected Huck's behavior on the river's banks, and Huck's

efforts to free Jim consequently lack their earlier moral

resolve. Twain's initial intention to portray the

development of Huck's moral identity through his ability to

see Jim as an individual finally fails, and Twain returns

Jim to the literary minstrelsy from which he had rescued


In this study, I examine the influence of Twain's

pattern upon southern writers of the twentieth century.

Liberal, white southern novelists have frequently recast

Huck Finn and Jim, intending to portray African-American

characters emerging from stereotype, but, like Twain, these

writers often return their black characters to stereotype.

By contrast, southern African-American writers have

repeatedly challenged the pattern which Twain established.

In Chapter One, I develop my analysis of Huck Finn,

focussing upon the manner in which Huck balances his white

identity against Jim's black identity. Leslie Fiedler notes

such a pattern in his still-luminous essay, "Come Back to

the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!," in which he argues that the

relationship between Huck and Jim--like that between Ishmael

and Queequeg--reflects the white American writer's

unconscious longing for a prepubescent, homoerotic

relationship with a man or woman representing a culture that

white Americans have persistently oppressed. At the heart

of the white character's embrace of the man or woman of

color is, for Fiedler, a fear of repudiation: "Behind the

white American's nightmare that someday, no longer tourist,

inheritor, or liberator, he will be rejected, refused, he

dreams of his acceptance at the breast he has most utterly

offended" (670-671). Huck Finn is the first of many such

"white saints," as I call them here: he looks to a black

character for growth when forced to do so but ultimately

turns from that character when he has achieved the growth

that was necessary to his own development. Huck thus uses

Jim as a springboard for his own escape from a society which

he finds oppressively constricting. Though Jim, like Tom,

is to follow Huck to the Territory after the novel's end

"for howling adventures amongst the Injuns" (361), they will

not return to the river, nor to Huck's heightened awareness

of Jim's black identity.

Chapter Two examines the early development of Twain's

pattern in the southern novel of the twentieth century. In

my analysis of two of William Faulkner's novels, Go Down,

Moses and Intruder in the Dust, and Elizabeth Spencer's A

Voice at the Back Door, I consider the ways in which these

white southerners ironically undermine the return to

stereotype that we see in Twain's novel even as they

themselves employ similar conclusions. In like manner, in

Chapter Three I consider Carson McCullers's Member of the

Wedding and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, popular

novels which reflect the pattern with less external irony

than we see in either Faulkner or Spencer.

In Chapter Four, I look at two contemporary novels by

white southerners which only rarely escape the pattern I'm

discussing: Sara Flanigan's Sudie and Kaye Gibbons' Ellen

Foster. Both novels closely follow Huck Finn in developing

central relationships between white and black characters,

and both return those black characters to stereotype in much

the same way as Twain does.

In Chapter Five, I examine the ways in which southern

African-American novelists have undermined the pattern Twain

established by repudiating it in precisely the manner

delineated by Fiedler. Here I look at Richard Wright's

Native Son, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Alice Walker's

Meridian, considering in particular the manner in which each

of these novels subverts the role of the white saint as

Twain had established it. The southern African-American

novelist swiftly identifies and reverses the stereotyped

portrayals of white southern writers in repudiating and

ultimately rewriting the relationship between Huck and Jim.

By contrast, in Chapter Six, I look at two novels by

white southerners which, while looking to Huck Finn as a

model, reconstruct the relationship between black and white

characters in significant ways. Padgett Powell's Edisto and

Ellen Douglas's Can't Quit You, Baby produce visions of race

in the South which break with the pattern that Twain


In my consideration of Huckleberry Finn, my focus is of

course upon the effect of the ending, the center of critical

debate surrounding the novel since its publication. A book

could well be written focussing solely the critical

treatment of Twain's conclusion: here, I look only to those

critics who most closely address the issue of Twain's use of

stereotypes in the novel. While my reading of Twain is in

part drawn from his earlier critics, the connection I am

making between Twain and these southern novelists in terms

of race has gained little critical attention. Though

critics have recognized Faulkner's debt to Twain, few

critics have addressed the parallels between Twain's novel

and other writers I consider here in terms of racial

representation. And rarely have these writers been taken to

task for returning a black character to stereotype, as has


In describing these writers as "liberal," I employ

Morton Sosna's definition of southern "racial liberals,"

white southerners who dissent from conservative southern

ideology on race. The southern novelists I consider here

demonstrate their dissent in portraying a white character to

some degree overcoming--however temporarily--his or her

stereotypes of African-Americans.

The novels here are southern in that they for the most

part take place in the South (the exceptions being Wright's

Native Son and much of Ellison's Invisible Man, both of

which, as I will suggest, are novels very much about the

South), but more significantly they are southern in their

often strained efforts to address racial issues and racial

interaction in the South, frequently through the absolution

or denunciation of southern whites. Louis Rubin, Jr. notes

that no sense of southern identity existed until those

living in the South were faced with the possibility of the

loss of slavery and that "the very idea of a 'southern'

literature, as distinct from American literature, had its

origins in the slavery controversy" (12). Thus these novels

are southern in that they address race, an issue


inextricably linked to slavery in the South, and the central

issue of southern identity even today. We see these writers

holding a mirror to southern culture and criticizing the

South even as they reproduce some of its more blatant

offenses. That should bring little surprise, for such a

transgression has been the South's central moral paradox

ever since a southerner wrote that "all men are created


While I look here only at southern novels, the pattern

I identify is of course an American one, reflecting on an

American dilemma. Lurking behind Huckleberry Finn and the

southern novels which follow it is Uncle Tom's Cabin,

written by Twain's Hartford neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In Twain's Jim--as in many of the black characters here--we

see much of the character of Stowe's Tom. Where Jim is a

moral gauge for Huck, Stowe intends Tom to be just such a

gauge for Albert St. Clare and for antebellum northern

society. In the process, of course, she creates a character

irreparably mired in stereotype.

Stowe's novel lends to Huck Finn's character as well.

Her charge to her readers in her epilogue presages Huck's

supreme moral credo to "feel good" (624): "But what can any

individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There

is one thing that every individual can do,--they can see to

it that they feel right." Huck Finn, like so many of the

white protagonists I examine here, attempts to do just this,

and though one result is his famous gesture of loyalty to

Jim, feeling right for Huck--Stowe's hope--ultimately means

returning physically and philosophically to his white


In a song called "Plow-Hand Blues," the southern blues

singer Big Bill Broonzy laments the death of a plow mule.

Addressing the inability of his young, largely white

audiences to understand the song, Broonzy once told an

interviewer, "'I'm talking about a mule dyin' on me....

What do these kids know about a mule? They never seen a

mule. How do you expect somebody to feel 'bout something he

don't know?" (Terkel 26). The white southern novelists I

consider here frequently portray white characters learning

to feel the experience of black characters, only to retreat

from such a possibility. The African-American writers in

the South who address similar relationships between black

and white characters operate on entirely distinct premises.

Through various means, they come to conclusions about their

white characters similar to Broonzy's final assessment of

his audience: "They never had no mule die on 'em. They

don't even know what the hell I'm talking' 'bout" (26). In

my conclusion, I examine two novels by white writers that

portray characters coming to recognize such boundaries, and

at least partially overcoming them, in a sense redeeming the

southern novel from the literary stereotypes of the past.



In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain attempts

to demonstrate his protagonist's moral growth through Huck's

relationship with the escaped slave Jim. Because of their

experiences together, Huck casts off his stereotypical

thinking of Jim despite the imperatives of southern culture

and comes to see Jim as an individual capable of human

emotion and reasoning. That Twain regarded the book's

intended aim as such we see in his celebrated recollection

of Huckleberry Finn ten years after its publication as "a

book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience

come into collision and conscience suffers defeat" (Lauber

109). By the end of his novel, however, Twain has

ostensibly abandoned his initial pattern and apparent

objectives and allowed Huck again to view Jim through white

stereotypes of blacks as they return to the southern society

which they had attempted to escape. By the end, that is,

Huck, like Twain, has returned Jim to the stereotyped

position from which he so lately rescued him.

For many contemporary critics, this return to

stereotype points to the suspect motives of Twain and other

white writers after him. Rhett S. Jones argues that

Huckleberry Finn "reflects and embodies white double-

consciousness as Mark Twain shifts back and forth in his

perspective on Jim and other blacks, now viewing them as

full-fledged human beings, now regarding them as inferior

folk" (28). Arnold Rampersad sees the return to stereotype

in Twain's novel as the result of bias within a "typically

American 'twinning' of white and dark-skinned characters"

(50). The motivation for employing such characters,

Rampersad argues, "is based on a sense of a black or native

American familiarity with Nature, noble in essence and

finally inaccessible to the white man" (50). And though

such characteristics suggest that the dark-skinned character

plays the greater role in the relationship, he remains

almost inevitably second in importance to the white
hero. He is only an acolyte in the ritual of American
absolution from sin--when he isn't the sacrificial
victim itself. In Huck Finn, Mark Twain exalts Jim--
just beyond the level of a white boy--but finally
cannot allow him to remain exalted. Jim then becomes
little more than a plaything, like a great stuffed
bear, for the white boys over whom he once stood
morally. (51)

For these critics, the difficulty with Twain's ending is not

a matter of aesthetics or unity, the main reasons for which

the book was attacked before Leslie Fiedler's fabulously


controversial watershed essay, "Come Back to the Raft Agin',

Huck Honey!" Instead, they observe the extent to which

Twain's narrative reflects the essential racism of American


Other critics, however, have found Twain's struggle

with his portrayal of Jim--his flitting in and out of

stereotype--to have led to the possibilities for the

portrayal of black characters significantly developed from

earlier types. Ralph Ellison argues that Twain, writing as

he did in the midst of the popularity of the minstrel show

and shortly after a war which had left white Americans tired

of addressing the problems of blacks, "fitted Jim into the

outlines of the minstrel tradition, and it is from behind

this stereotype mask that we see Jim's dignity and human

capacity--and Twain's complexity--emerge" (Shadow and Act

50). As I hope to demonstrate in Chapter Five, Ellison in

turn develops Jim's character to its full humanity in

Invisible Man even as he undermines other aspects of Twain's

novel. Whatever the "human capacity" present in Jim, he is

clearly no fully realized human being at the end of Twain's

novel. In the present chapter I develop a reading

demonstrating the ways in which such a portrayal represents

a failure of purpose for Mark Twain.

Tied to Huck's emergent sense of Jim's humanity

throughout Huckleberry Finn is Huck's determined struggle

with his own identity. He adapts a lengthy series of


invented aliases in the course of his novel: he is variously

Sarah Williams, Sarah Mary Williams, George Jaxon.

Ultimately, of course, he becomes Tom Sawyer. Twain

contrasts this variety of guises with Huck's transcendent

identity in the novel, most clear in the river passages in

which he is cut off from society and linked closely to Jim.

Here, as Rampersad suggests, Huck is at one with nature, and

here, as he recurrently reminds, things are most "easy and

comfortable" (155). Away from Jim, however, Huck's

identity--like that of the typical picaresque hero--

invariably changes, suggesting that Huck will ultimately

cast off whatever development he experiences through his

relationship with Jim once they have returned to society, as

surely they must. Thus, throughout the novel, Twain

prepares us for Huck's ultimate betrayal of Jim, even if

many engaged readers have been all too willing to be duped

into hoping it shall be otherwise.


From the beginning of his novel, Twain attempts to

portray Jim as the primary agent of identity for Huck:

through his relationship with Jim, Huck will come to

comprehend himself better as an individual living within a

constricting and hypocritical culture. As the second

chapter opens, Huck and Tom Sawyer are stealing away from

the Widow Douglas's house past Jim, and Huck's initial

portrayal of Jim imparts the significance the relationship

will come to have for both: "We scrouched down and laid

still, Miss Watson's big nigger, named Jim, was setting in

the kitchen door; we could see him pretty clear, because

there was a light behind him. He got up and stretched his

neck out a minute, listening. Then he says, "Who dah?" (6).

Twain depicts Tom and Huck "tip-toeing along a path" as they

attempt to escape the house and bowing down in hiding from

Jim. At this early point in the novel, Jim ironically

implements the moral codes of those who enslave him: Huck

and Tom fear him because he reminds them of the Widow's

restrictive values which won't permit midnight flights from

the house. Later, of course, Jim will continue to act as a

catalyst for Huck's moral development through his rejection

of "conscience," which Huck equates with the moral ideology

of the society in which he is raised. Twain portrays Jim as

a figure of moral identity for Huck as Jim even at this

early moment in the text provides a moral standard for Huck.

Jim reminds Huck of his obligations to the Widow and Miss

Watson as he stands at the porch much as he will later

inform Huck of other, vastly different obligations.

Though Huck and Tom see Jim "pretty clear" as he

searches into the darkness for them, Jim cannot determine

the source of the noise that he has heard. And Huck will

remain an unknown quantity for Jim until they link their two


causes in escaping Jackson's Island. Indeed, throughout the

novel, Jim will be questioning Huck, metaphorically

demanding that Huck define himself, declare his identity, by

first aligning himself with or against Jim. In this early

moment in the text, Jim begins to question Huck: "Who dah?"

he asks, just as he will later ask Huck to reveal himself


Hearing no response to his question, Jim continues to

seek out the source of the noise he has heard:

He listened some more; then he come tip-toeing down
and stood right between us; we could a touched him,
nearly. Well, likely it was minutes and minutes that
there warn't a sound, and we all there so close
together. There was a place on my ankle that got to
itching; but I dasn't scratch it; and then my ear begun
to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders.
Seemed like I'd die if I couldn't scratch. . Pretty
soon Jim says:
"Say--who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I
didn' hear sumf'n. Well, I knows what I's gwyne to do.
I's gwyne to set down here and listen tell I hears it
agin." (6)

Jim's questions again demonstrate the role he will take in

relation to Huck through much of Twain's novel: these are

the questions that he will figuratively ask of Huck time and

again in the course of the narrative. As he stands between

the two boys in the darkness, Jim separates Huck from his

companion Tom, whom Twain painstakingly portrays as a force

within this southern society throughout the novel (from the

first page of the novel, in fact, where Huck recollects that

it was Tom who first came after him when he escaped the

Widow Douglas' house: "Tom Sawyer, he hunted me up and said


he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if

I would go back to the widow and be respectable" [1-2]). If

Huck feels physically uncomfortable here ("Seemed like I'd

die if I couldn't scratch."), it is because Jim forces him

wholly outside of this southern society in separating him

from Tom Sawyer. And if Huck Finn is finally about the

alienation that Huck feels as he confronts the hypocrisy of

slavery and of southern culture, in this moment we begin to

see an inkling of this alienation. Huck's misery at being

placed next to Jim and thus separated from Tom is

representative of the struggle of conscience which he will

face on the river: it is precisely this proximity to Jim

which will finally force Huck to identify and cope with the

moral conflicts of his southern society.

In this early section of the novel, Huck retains the

passive role that he played throughout The Adventures of Tom

Sawyer. When Jim falls asleep after lying down to wait out

the boys, Huck and Tom successfully escape. To Huck's

consternation, however, Tom insists on returning to play a

trick on Jim:

When we was ten foot off, Tom whispered to me and
wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun; but I said no;
he might wake and make a disturbance, and then they'd
find out I warn't in. Then Tom said he hadn't got
candles enough, and he would slip in the kitchen and
get some more. I didn't want him to try. I said Jim
might wake up and come. But Tom wanted to resk it; so
we slid in there and got three candles, and Tom laid
five cents on the table for pay. Then we got out, and
I was in a sweat to get away; but nothing would do but
Tom he must crawl to where Jim was, on his hands and
knees, and play something on him. I waited, and it

seemed a good while, everything was so still and
lonesome. (7)

Tom here plays a role similar to that he will play at the

end of the novel: he attempts to overcome his vagrant sense

of remorse for stealing the candles by reimbursing his

victim. Likewise, at the end of the novel, he will pay Jim

forty dollars for having successfully endured the boys'

prolonged progress toward Jim's escape. Tom assumes a

paternalistic role toward Jim from the beginning of the

novel, assuming control of Jim by virtue of his ability to

pay for his moral transgressions. Thus Tom provides stark

contrast to Huck Finn even as he acts as a model for Huck:

cut off from both Tom and Jim, Huck here experiences his

first moment of serious reflection upon the larger themes of

the novel as he feels "all still and lonesome," waiting for

Tom to return from playing his trick upon Jim.

Upon returning, Tom reveals to Huck that he "slipped

Jim's hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over

him." Jim's later assessment that witches "bewitched him

and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State" is

hardly far-fetched, considering that Tom's trick here

closely resembles the lynching that plagued the South as

Twain wrote the novel. While Jim comically imagines that he

has been conjured by witches, Twain's reader might well have

imagined a different fate entirely. Tom's "trick" turns

upon the reader and evokes the larger themes which Twain

will address as his novel develops.

Tom's manipulations of Jim result in Jim's first

subordination to minstrelsy, and it is a role Jim will play

frequently in the novel. Yet, in elaborating upon his story

of having been "rode by witches," Jim gains the respect of

other slaves in the area: "Niggers would come miles to hear

Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any

other nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand

with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he

was a wonder" (8). If he here plays the role of the

minstrel, in gaining the respect of the local slaves Jim

turns the role to his advantage, as he will do throughout

the novel. David L. Smith argues that Twain employs such

strategies alongside racial stereotypes, thus "elaborat[ing]

them in order to undermine them" (6). When Huck says that

Jim is eventually "ruined, for a servant, because he got so

stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode

by witches" (8), he conceeds that Jim has turned the trick

to his advantage.

Twain's early portrayal of Jim suggests his intent to

remove Jim from the minstrel stereotype: if, as Walter Blair

demonstrates in Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, Twain did

not know as he wrote these early chapters that much of his

narrative would develop around Jim's escape from slavery,

his portrayal nonetheless shows him breaking away from the

stereotyped portrayals of earlier southern writers like

William Gilmore Simms. For Smith, such scenes "undermine

rather than revalidate the dominant racial discourse" (6).

Huck's next encounter with Jim further emphasizes Jim's

role as an agent of moral identity for Huck. Twain again

plays upon stereotypes of blacks, here having Huck come to

Jim to have him "do magic" and reveal to Huck the reason

that Pap has returned to St. Petersburg. Huck asks Jim to

consult a hairball: "What I wanted to know, was, what [Pap]

was going to do, and was he going to stay?" (20). Jim's

prophecy that Pap is wrestling with two angels suggests the

very moral dilemma in which Huck will soon find himself:

"One uv 'em is white en shiny, en otherr one is black. De

white one gits him to go right, a little while, den de black

one sail in en bust it all up" (22). Jim's language

ironically alludes to the stereotypical assumptions against

which Huck will struggle as he later helps Jim to escape.

In the following scene, Twain further stresses Huck's

rejection of Pap and--to some extent--of his own white

identity in his vivid description of Pap: "There warn't no

color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not

like another man's white, but a white to make a body's flesh

crawl--a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white" (23). Such

associations with whiteness will of course lead to Huck's

climactic decision to steal Jim out of slavery and "go to

hell" for doing so.

After escaping the Widow Douglas' "sivilized"

constraints and Pap's brutality for Jackson's Island, Huck

finds Jim, who has escaped from Miss Watson. As in his

first encounter with Jim, Huck attempts to conceal his

identity as long as possible. After searching through the

woods for the campfire he'd seen earlier, Huck finally comes

upon it and waits in the surrounding bushes: "By-and-by I

was close enough to have a look, and there laid a man on the

ground. It most give me the fan-tods" (38). As in Huck's

earlier encounter with Jim, Twain stresses the emotional

distance between the two. Huck's discomfort in Jim's

presence, and his brief inability to recognize Jim, mirror

the abstract distance Huck will feel between himself and Jim

throughout the novel.

Huck's surreptitious movements parallel his attempts to

elude Jim at the beginning of the text as he escapes the

Widow Douglas' house. When he first sees Jim's sleeping

form next to the campfire, he is filled with fear, the "fan-

tods." Huck's apparent supposition that a white man is on

the island threatens his own autonomy, as it threatens the

fiction that he has created in escaping from Pap's cabin.

As the "gray daylight" dawns upon them, however, Huck soon

recognizes Jim ("it was Miss Watson's Jim!") and immediately

loses his trepidation, as he is able to rely on stereotypes

that he knows well in interacting with Jim. Concurrently,

in Jim's reaction Twain reasserts his character's


superstitious nature which leads to a white fantasy of black


He bounced and stared at me wild. Then he drops
down on his knees, and puts his hands together and
"Doan hurt me--don't! I hain't ever done no harm to
a ghos'. I awluz liked dead people, en done all I
could for 'em. You go en git in de river agin, whah
you b'longs, en doan' do nuffn to Ole Jim, 'at 'uz
awluz yo' fren'." (51)

Thus their relationship on the river is begun, with Jim

genuflecting before Huck, passively pleading for mercy from

his young interlocutor.

Huck and Jim's subsequent dialogue indicates the extent

to which they both must struggle to overcome the mistrust

inherent in the southern society which they have left:

"How do you come to be here, Jim, and how'd you get
He looked pretty uneasy, and didn't say nothing for
a minute. Then he says:
"Maybe I better not tell."
"Why, Jim?"
"Well, dey's reasons. But you wouldn't tell on me
ef I 'uz to tell you, would you, Huck?"
"Blamed if I would, Jim."
"Well, I believe you, Huck. I--I run off."
"But mind--you said you wouldn't tell--you know you
said you wouldn't tell, Huck."
"Well, I did. I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to
it. Honest Injun I will. People would call me a low
down Ablitionist and despise me for keeping mum--but
that don't make no difference. I ain't going to tell,
and I ain't going back there anyways. So now, le's
know all about it." (52-53)

For the first time in the novel, Jim places his trust in

Huck, and Huck's immediate response is to consider the

results of such a bond, tentative though it may be: "People

would call me a low down Ablitionist and despise me for


keeping mum." Despite Huck's claims to the contrary, these

first pangs of "conscience" will indeed make a difference.

In the course of his narrative, Twain painstakingly

traces Huck's growing sense of Jim's humanity through a

series of epiphanies which reflect the profound conflict

Huck experiences between widely divergent moral views. As

they escape Jackson's Island, for instance, Huck links his

own cause with Jim's, saying, "Git up and hump yourself,

Jim! They're after us" (75). Identifying himself with Jim

for the first time in the novel, Huck has begun to separate

himself from the cultural mores of St. Petersburg.

In like manner, the dialogue following the passage in

which Huck and Jim become separated in the fog reveals

Huck's growing awareness of Jim's humanity, but such

awareness comes only after Huck has first manipulated Jim in

imitation of his friend Tom Sawyer. When Huck claims that

Jim only dreamed their separation, Jim is incredulous:

"Huck--Huck Finn, you look me in de eye; look me in
de eye. Hain't you ben gone away?"
"Gone away? Why, what in the nation do you mean? I
hain't been gone anywhere. Where would I go to?"
"Well, looky here, boss, dey's sumf'n wrong, dey is.
Is I me, or who is I? Is I heah, or whah is I? Now
dat's what I wants to know?" (103)

Jim links his confusion here to his own identity,

questioning his presence on the raft and his own awareness

of himself. Huck returns to the duplicitous role he first

held in relation to Jim, and Jim, having already cast his

lot with Huck, can no longer determine his own identity: "Is


I me, or who is I?" Ironically, at this point in the novel

only Jim demonstrates the capacity for overcoming racial

stereotype and taboo.

As in the earlier scenes in which Jim questions Huck's

identity, the focus of this epiphanic scene is the

separation of Jim and Huck. Just as Huck constantly forgets

his admission of Jim's humanity and his resolve to set Jim

free, the two are time and again separated from one another

in the course of the novel. Ernest D. Mason explains this

pattern of digressions in the relationship as a "combination

of revulsion and fascination, intimacy and remoteness,

attraction and repulsion" (36) in which Huck's frequent

failures of moral development are symptomatic of his "desire

to worship Jim the child and dominate Jim the man" (38).

Yet if there is an abundance of evidence to demonstrate that

Twain's portrayal of Jim is severely limited by his

insistence on Jim's passive nature (he is after all a

descendent in the "good nigger" line like Stowe's Uncle

Tom), it is also true that we see in Twain's portrayal that

Jim is not only capable of a measure of manipulation for his

own purposes, but that, as here, he learns Huck Finn's moral

lessons before Huck himself does. And, unlike Huck, he

remembers them.

When Jim realizes that Huck has tricked him, his

admonishment leads to Huck's repentance and the passage that

Leslie Fiedler calls "an apology for all of white America"

(Proteus 6).

When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de calling' for
you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke because
you wuz los', en I didn't kyer no mo' what become er me
en de raf'. En when I wake up en fine you back agin',
all safe en soun', de tears come en I could a got down
on my knees en kiss yo' foot I's so thankful. En all
you wuz thinking' 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv
ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is
what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's
en makes 'em ashamed."
Then he got up slow, and walked to the wigwam, and
went in there, without saying anything but that. But
that was enough. It made me feel so mean I could
almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back.
It was almost fifteen minutes before I could work
myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger--but I
done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards,
neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I
wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make
him feel that way. (105)

Jim once again calls out to Huck, through darkness, as in

the first passage in which we encounter him. This time,

however, he knows precisely who he is calling: in Jim's

reckoning, Huck is (white?) "trash" for his cruel behavior.

Here, he knows that Huck is "lost," just as Huck becomes

emotionally lost upon hearing Jim's condemnation of him.

Their reversed genuflections suggest that finally no true

sense of "equality" is possible in this narrative, but

rather that one or the other must take a dominant position

in the relationship. The raft, far from being the placid

and just preserve from civilization that so many critics

have declared it to be, is in fact the site for a never-

ending series of moral one-upmanship. If Jim here takes the

upper hand by demonstrating a superior moral sensibility,


Huck will soon wrest it back from him. Huck's "apology for

all of white America" is a characteristically short-lived

one, and, though Huck claims he "didn't do [Jim] no more

mean tricks," we will soon see that Huck deceives himself in

such an assessment.

Huck is able to trick the whites on the river as he is

not often able to trick Jim. And when he does trick Jim, he

is remorseful, as he clearly is not with many of the

characters he encounters in his novel, so many of whom

deserve little compassion. And throughout the novel, Huck's

compassion for Jim is fleeting and superficial. In his

relationship with Jim he is a white saint, claiming time and

again to take pity upon Jim. And if Huck is not the first

white saint in American literature (his cousin Little Eva

chronologically deserves that honor), he makes himself into

a model for others to come, as I hope to show in later


Shortly after the fog passage, Huck apparently forgets

his resolve and, telling Jim that he is going to see if they

have finally arrived at Cairo, Huck sets out for the

Illinois bank to turn Jim in. Jim calls to Huck as Huck

strikes out for shore:

"Pooty soon I'll be a-shout'n for joy, en I'll say,
it's all on accounts o' Huck; I's a free man, en I
couldn't ever ben free ef it hadn' ben for Huck; Huck
done it. Jim won't ever forgit you, Huck; you's de
bes' fren' Jim's ever had; en you's de only fren' ole
Jim's got now." (125)

Henry Nash Smith suggests that Jim's abundant praise comes

because he guesses what Huck has in mind and feels obliged

to do "what he can to invoke the force of friendship and

gratitude" (120). Jim of course emphasizes the word

"friend," a term which Huck himself does not once use in the

novel. In the following paragraph, Jim describes Huck as

"de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to old

Jim," ironically alluding to the very social structure that

he is trying to escape. In calling Huck a "genlman," Jim

associates Huck with southern gentility, granting Huck the

same power that Miss Watson holds over him.

Gentleman or no, when slave catchers ask him if the man

on the raft is white or black, Huck is tempted to give Jim

up, "but the words wouldn't come," much as he will struggle

for words later in the novel in trying to decide whether or

not to rescue Jim. Here the words he finds are duplicitous:

"I tried, for a second or two, to brace up and out with it,

but I warn't man enough--hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I

see I was weakening; so I just give up trying, and up and

says--'He's white' (125). Huck's decision parallels his

later decision to "go to hell": in both scenes he cannot

find words to express society's desires over his own. His

confession that he "warn't man enough" to turn Jim in to the

slave catchers demonstrates the extent to which he links his

emerging moral identity to his relationship with Jim. And

of course, when he claims that his man is white, the lie is

only a matter of metaphor, as Huck will later in the text

decide for himself that Jim is, after all, "white inside."

Whatever Twain's conscious intentions in his portrayal

of Jim, the unconscious ideology of his novel denies Jim his

humanity. From the moment that Jim and Huck pass Cairo in

the fog, Jim no longer has any opportunity to attain freedom

of his own accord and must, by the end of the novel, be set

free either by two mischievous white adolescents or by the

hard-earned benevolence of his white mistress. The only

unconstrained power Jim had as a slave in southern society--

his ability to escape his master and earn freedom through

the use of his own cunning and physical strength--is denied

him when the raft passes the mouth of the Ohio River.

Having forgotten Jim altogether in his stay with the

Grangerfords--and having shown no remorse for what he surely

would have taken to be Jim's death--Huck is much surprised

to see that Jim also escaped the steam boat which had sent

them off the raft: "I poked into the place a-ways, and come

to a little patch as big as a bedroom, all hung around with

vines, and found a man laying there asleep--and by jings it

was my old Jim!" (149). As when he first approached Jim on

Jackson's Island, Huck here sees Jim's sleeping form, and,

upon identifying him, claims a metaphoric possession: "it

was my old Jim." Having re-established the social order on

the raft, Huck maintains that the pair are content upon

leaving the banks of the river: "We said there warn't no

home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so

cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty

free and easy and comfortable on a raft" (155).

Such bliss is predictably fleeting, however, and in the

next pages of the novel, the king and the duke arrive to

impose their own sense of social order on the raft, a white

trash royalty. After watching the exploits of their guests

for some time, Huck and Jim discuss the king and the duke at

length, Jim concluding "dese kings o' ourn is regular

rapscallions" (199). In an aside to the reader, Huck claims

to know "these warn't real kings and dukes," but he elects

not to tell Jim because "it wouldn't a done no good; and

besides, it was just as I said; you couldn-'t tell them from

the real kind." Huck's ironic commentary here serves to

emphasize by contrast his developing understanding of Jim's

emotional existence:

I went to sleep, and Jim didn't call me when it was my
turn. He often done that. When I waked up, just at
day-break, he was setting there with his head down
betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself. I
didn't take notice, nor let on. I knowed what it was
about. He was thinking about his wife and children,
away up yonder, and he was low homesick; because he
hadn't ever been away from home before in his life; and
I do believe he cared just as much for his people as
white folks does for their'n. It don't seem natural,
but I reckon it's so. He was often moaning and
mourning that way, nights when he judged I was asleep,
and saying, "Po' little 'Lizabeth! po' little Johnny!
its mighty hard; I spec' I ain't ever gwyne to see you
no mo', no mo'! He was a mighty good nigger, Jim was.

Huck again experiences an epiphany which forces him to

consider Jim as a human figure. If he has just taken a


paternal role in withholding his knowledge of the king and

the duke from Jim, Huck is also capable of understanding Jim

as a paternal figure, though he will never relate to him as


Huck's final rejection of the king and the duke comes

when he sees the extent to which they are willing to prey

upon the innocents along the banks of the river. When he

sees the two of them crying over Peter Wilks' death, he

exclaims: "Both of them took on about that dead tanner like

they'd lost the twelve disciples. Well, if ever I struck

anything like it, I'm a nigger. It was enough to make a

body ashamed of the human race" (210). Huck's metaphor is

anything but innocent: throughout the text he is compelled

to contrast the hypocrisy and greed of the white culture in

which he was raised with Jim's simplicity and naivete.

Though he has never "struck anything" like the king's

chicanery here, Huck is nonetheless closest in demeanor to

Jim, the character whom he intermittently insists upon

referring to as "nigger."

Upon escaping the king and the duke, Huck runs to Jim

and is once again taken aback by his appearance, though this

time the moment is, for the reader at least, comic:

"Out with you Jim, and set her loose! Glory be to
goodness, we're shut of them!"
Jim lit out, and was a coming for me with both arms
spread, he was so full of joy; but when I glimpsed him
in the lightning, my heart shot up in my mouth and I
went overboard backwards; for I forgot he was old King
Lear and a drowned A-rab all in one, and it most scared
the lights out of me. But Jim fished me out, and was


going to hug me and bless me, and so on, he was so glad
I was back and we was shut of the king and the duke,
but I says:
"Not now--have it for breakfast, have it for
breakfast! Cut loose and let her slide!" (259)

Huck's return to Jim--and to his central narrative--in this

passage again reveals the metaphoric trepidation with which

he inevitably approaches Jim: Jim comes with open arms but,

gotten up as a sick Arab so that the travellers could float

the Mississippi by day, he scares hell out of Huck.

The passage in which Huck decides to "go to hell" is,

ironically enough, likely the most frequently quoted

literary passage outside of the Bible in American

literature. Huck determines to write his letter to the

Widow Douglas and upon its completion he is relieved of the

guilt pressing upon him by his conscience: "I felt all good

and washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt

so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now" (269). The

language he uses here, despite his good feelings, is of

course not his own: he has learned it from Miss Watson and

from the Widow Douglas. And given that fact, Huck's

hedonistic personality will surely gravitate toward language

which will give him more pleasure and require less Christian

ardor. "Feeling good" may be a credo for Huck Finn, but he

has surely never before felt good because he is "all washed

clean of sin" so that he could pray. His thoughts quickly

return to the river and to his experiences with Jim, which

he recalls in language contrasting starkly with Miss


And got to thinking over out trip down the river; and I
see Jim before me, all the time in the day, and in
the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms,
and we a-floating along, talking and singing and
laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no
places to harden me against him, but only the other
kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n,
stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see
him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog;
and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there
where the feud was; and such-like times;and would
always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he
could think of for me, and how good he always was; and
at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the
men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful,
and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the
world, and the only one he's got now; and then I
happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in
my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide,
forever, betwixt two things and I knowed it. I studied
a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to
"All right, then, I'll go to hell"--and tore it up.

The language Huck holds up here in comparison is--in Huck's

terms--unmistakably superior to that with which he expressed

his satisfaction at writing the letter. For Stephen

Railton, Huck's recollection of the river passages defines

"with great human clarity exactly what is lost when you call

a person a 'nigger'--by showing us what you see instead when

you call him by his right name" (397). Huck for the first

time sees Jim completely outside of the variety of

stereotypes which southern society places upon slaves: he

sees Jim only in the context of their relationship. And,

because, for the moment at least, Huck's catalyst is not an

action of Jim's (as in the fog sequence) but rather Huck's

internal sense of goodness, Twain would have the reader

believe that the moment, unlike earlier epiphanies in the

text, reflects genuine moral development.

Yet Huck's innate sense of goodness--that "sound heart"

Twain spoke of years later--matches his sense of the

comfortable. As in the earlier moments on the raft, for all

his ceremony, Huck does little but that which is easiest for

him. When Huck "see(s) Jim," he sees mostly a fawning

domestic: Jim stands Huck's watch, calls him "honey," and

pets him. Fiedler finds in such examples a sexual union,

and we can easily identify the dominant partner. Huck's

apparent moral growth here finally represents no more deep

resolve for him than we have seen earlier when Huck

apologizes to Jim at the conclusion of one chapter and sets

out to return him to slavery in the beginning of the next.

In the final third of the novel, Huck's "hell" will be as

innocent as a return to childhood.

In this final section of the novel, Jim is denied the

humanity he has so lately gained in Huck Finn's estimation

as Huck and Tom reduce his plight to a succession of raucous

exploits. Huck, in his capitulation to Tom Sawyer's

elaborate plan to free Jim, loses his resolve in this final

section of the novel, a failure to which Mark Twain alludes

in having Huck assume as his final alias the character of

Tom Sawyer. Huck accepts his new identity with a pious

zeal, remarking, "it was like being born again, I was so

glad to find out who I was" (282). His adventures as Tom

Sawyer resemble the boyhood pranks and misdeeds which typify

the first three chapters of his novel and the whole of Tom's

book. Huck has returned to a childhood in which he reveres

Tom, and thus he is more awed than horrified as Tom

manipulates Jim for frivolous purposes.

We see Huck's acceptance of the ideology of the white

culture upon his return to the banks of the river in his

first encounter with Aunt Sally when she asks if anyone was

hurt when his steamboat blew a cylinder-head. "No'm.

Killed a nigger" (279), Huck responds. If we are tempted to

read Huck's swift acceptance of white ideology as a

necessary manipulation for his swift acceptance into the

culture so that he might free Jim the quicker, we need only

look to the following chapters to see how quickly Huck's

plan to free Jim is postponed and altered once Tom Sawyer

makes his troubling return to the novel.

Huck and Tom's adventures in helping Jim to escape are

of course adventures drawn from Tom Sawyer's fiction and not

that which we have come to expect of Huck Finn. The

romantic fictions which guide Tom's thinking here also warp

Huck's narrative and Twain's novel with an infusion of

sentiment of the sort Twain regularly claimed to resent.

For James Cox, Huck's return to Tom and to childhood here,


like Jim's corresponding return to stereotype, represents a

burlesque which undermines the position of the reader:

If the reader sees in Tom's performance a rather shabby
and safe bit of play, he is seeing no more than the
exposure of the approval with which he watched Huck
operate. For if Tom is rather contemptibly setting a
free slave free, what after all is the reader doing,
who begins the book after the fact of the Civil War?

Thus the reader is implicated in Huck's failure at the end

of the novel to follow through immediately with his resolve

to set Jim free. And yet, if this is the case, it is also

true that Twain participates in this same process of

'setting a free slave free' in developing Huck's narrative.

Following their escape, as Huck, Tom and Jim step out

on to the raft, Huck heralds Jim's return to freedom: "Now,

old Jim, you're a free man again, and I bet you won't ever

be a slave no more" (340). It's hardly a safe bet, of

course, and Huck's reduction of Jim's plight to wager

reveals the extent to which he has aligned himself with Tom

in this final section of the novel. If he has accomplished

his goal of setting Jim free, he has in the process

forgotten the urgency with which he made his decision to "go

to hell." And in forgetting, he has lost his resolve to

"take up wickedness" which we so admired earlier.

Huck's satisfaction at his success and Jim's freedom is

cut short, when he and Jim realize that Tom has been shot in

the calf in the escape. Despite Tom's insistence that they

"man the sweeps" and head the raft downriver, Jim insists

that Tom see a doctor before they leave:

Well, den, dis is de way it look to me, Huck. Ef it
wuz him dat 'uz bein' sot free, en one er de boys wuz
to git shot, would he say, 'Go on en save me, nemmine
'bout a doctor f'r to save dis one? Is dat like Mars
Tom Sawyer? Would he say dat? You bet he wouldn't!
Well, den, is Jim gwyne to say it? No, sah--I doan'
budge a step out'n dis place, 'dout a doctor; not if
it's forty year! (340-341)

The speech represents an ironic and ill-fated transcendence

for Jim, in which he equates himself with these roguish

white boys who help him to escape. Yet Jim holds himself to

moral standards that surely don't exist in his would-be

saviors: Tom Sawyer has demonstrated himself to be just the

type to say "go on en save me." Having delayed Jim's

rightful freedom so long simply to indulge his romantic

fantasy, Tom has been saying little else through the latter

third of the novel. Only Huck has demonstrated sufficient

self-restraint in the novel to consider Jim's humanity

before his own, but Huck has apparently lost that ability at

this late point in the novel. "I knowed he was white

inside" (341), Huck thinks to himself after Jim's dignified

speech, as though any remaining trepidation Huck may have

had in taking Jim out of slavery is released with this

revelation. Huck's ability to see Jim in moral terms as a

white man, rather than his acknowledgment of Jim's humanity,

delivers him from the fleeting remorse he has felt

throughout the novel. Thus he bases his later assertion

that Jim "had a good heart in him and was a good man" (314)

largely on the racist dogma which he had symbolically

rejected in the earlier sections of the novel.

In "Chapter, the Last," Huck ties up what loose ends

he has left in his narrative and effectively abandons not

only Jim but, of course, also his friend Tom who has led

Huck to the ethical morass in which he finds himself. Tom

gives Jim forty dollars "for being a prisoner for us so

patient, Twain's apparent dig at the "forty acres and a

mule" promised freed slaves. In return for Tom's charity,

Jim gives abundant thanks:

Jim was pleased most to death, and busted out, and
"Dah, now, Huck, what I tell you?--what I tell you
up dah on Jackson islan'? I tole you I got a hairy
breas', en what's de sign un it; en I tole you I ben
rich wunst, en gwineter to be rich again; en it's come
true; en heah she is! Dab, now, doan' talk to me--
signs is signs, mine I tell you; en I knowed jis' 's
well 'at I 'uz gwineter be rich agin as I's a stannin'
heah dis minute!" (360-361)

Jim has thus made the full circle back to minstrelsy, as

Twain once again emphasizes the superstitious and comic in

Jim's character.

If, in the course of the novel, Huck has come to

identify Jim as an individual in seeing the range of emotion

that Jim is capable of as they float down the Mississippi,

he closes his novel by once again forgetting Jim's

individuality. At the end, Huck's decision "to light out

for the Territory ahead of the rest" tacitly acknowledges

his own need to escape a society in which he cannot help but

be corrupted by the predominant ideology. In this there is

hope for Huck; he has experienced clear moral development

through his relationship with Jim, has returned to society

to shun that development, and finally, perhaps, senses that

he must attempt to recover that which he had attained on the

river. The Territory for which Huck lights out is the

"hell" to which he has already resigned himself.

But if there is hope for Huck here, there is precious

little for those slaves not so lucky as Jim or for the

culture in which they find themselves. Through his

relationship with Jim, Huck has sensed something within

himself which is unable to accept the hypocrisy of his

society, yet finally, this vision can pursued only by using

Jim as a springboard for his own escape. Ever the

individualist, Huck escapes the very society for which his

growth might have held some consequence. As Forrest

Robinson writes, "The role of liberator in a world of

resolute slaveholders is too much for him, and he collapses

under the enormous weight of his decision [to free Jim]"

(240). And with this collapse, his narrative devolves into

a familiar pattern of black sacrifice for white gain.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn represents a way of

thinking about race relations that Americans have revered

and imitated often, perhaps because, as Huck would have it,

it is so "free and easy" (128): Huck's hard-won resolve

finally costs him very little and costs his society nothing.

The fog on the Mississippi River in which Huck and Jim pass

Cairo parallels Twain's own navigational difficulties in the

course of his novel, considering that he left off

composition soon after the passage was completed. Twain

attempted to depict Huck's moral growth through the boy's

relationship with Jim, but emerging from the fog of his own

work, he passed his intended story and found himself

drifting swiftly southward.

In The Company We Keep, Wayne Booth proposes an

assessment of Twain's treatment of race in the novel which

balances the stereotypical with the transcendent:

. though Twain's racial liberalism was inevitably
limited, though he failed to imagine the "good Negro"
with anything like the power of his portrait of good
and bad whites, though in effect he simply wipes out
Jim as a character in the final pages, he has still, by
his honest effort to create the first full literary
friendship between a white character and a slave,
permanently opened up this conversation we are engaged
in. We would not be talking about what it might mean
to cope adequately with the heritage of slavery, in
literary form, had he not intervened in our
conversation. (474)

Booth himself immediately calls into question such a

strained vindication of the novel, and concludes that the

novel's merits in regard to its treatment of race are, well,

unequivocally equivocal. Yet, strained or not, such a

vindication of the novel has led numerous southern liberal

writers after Twain to engage in conversations which propose

little beyond Twain's opening statement. Setting out to


recreate a literary relationship closely resembling that

between Huck and Jim, white writers in the South have again

and again engaged us in a conversation about race which

often leads us to the same denouement, in which a black

character is redeemed from stereotype only to be returned to

it. Intending to go to hell, their characters often return

before they get there.



The American novelist in the twentieth century has

looked to Huckleberry Finn time and again both as a

narrative model and as an archetype for literary racial

relationships. Surely no blurb for an American novel has

been more reproduced than Hemingway's assessment in Green

Hills of Africa that "all modern American literature comes

from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn" (22).

Yet Hemingway, like so many readers, was ill at ease with

Twain's ending. The last third of the novel troubled him so

much he recommended that the reader simply overlook it: "If

you read it [Huck Finn] you must stop where the Nigger Jim

is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is

just cheating." Despite such harsh criticism of the ending,

however, Hemingway continues his praise in judging that

"it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes

from that. There was nothing before. There has been

nothing as good since" (22).

Other writers have frequently asserted the importance

of Twain's novel to the American novel in the twentieth

century and have attested as well to its uniquely southern

characteristics. Allen Tate called Huckleberry Finn "the

first modern novel by a southerner" (591). And Twain's

novel is of course very much about the South: we see this

particularly in Twain's biting parodies of southern culture

in the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons

and in Colonel Sherburn's response to the lynch mob. But

Huckleberry Finn finally pertains to the South in its focus

on race and on the hypocrisy with which white southerners

confront matters pertaining to race.

Few southern novelists have avoided completely the

issue of race because it is so essential to any "reading" of

the South. For a solution to the moral complexities of

racial relationships, many of them have looked to the "free

and easy" moral arrangement of Huck Finn. While all of the

white southern novelists I consider in subsequent chapters

look to Twain's novel as a model for revision, most recast

the relationship between Huck and Jim only to return the

black character to the stereotyped position out of which he

or she had been so lately rescued. In the present chapter,

I analyze two novels by William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses and

Intruder in the Dust, and another by Elizabeth Spencer, A

Voice at the Back Door, each of which confronts and assesses

the question of race central to its vision of the South.


William Faulkner throughout his career addressed a

southern mythology bound up in race. Like Twain, he

frequently portrayed black characters as central moral

figures in his major novels. Dilsey, for instance, is the

moral axis of the Compson family in The Sound and the Fury,

and, in vastly different fashion, Joe Christmas is at the

moral center of Light in August, forcing the white community

to confront racial identity before it can define itself.

Both characters gauge the moral character of white southern


And if the moral lives of whites are intertwined with

those of black characters throughout Faulkner's fiction,

nowhere is that bond so apparent as in the two novels in

which Faulkner is most indebted to Huck Finn. In Go Down,

Moses and Intruder in the Dust, Faulkner employs characters

of mixed race as moral guides for his protagonists: in both

novels, the pattern of moral development within the white

protagonist closely resembles that we see in Huckleberry

Finn. In both, Faulkner reworks and updates the

relationship between Huck and Jim for the South of the

twentieth century, and, in the process, re-establishes the

patterns of racial relations that Twain had initiated in the

previous century. Where Twain's Jim remains throughout

Huckleberry Finn a transparent and undeveloped character,

however, Faulkner's "Jims" are complex and autonomous

characters, informed surely by Faulkner's reading of Twain

but finally by his postbellum sensibility, his need to

portray black characters largely shunt of the minstrel

tradition to which Twain remains faithful.


Critics have long pointed out the indebtedness of Go

Down, Moses (1942) to Twain's novel, particularly in

Faulkner's portrayal of race. R. W. B. Lewis argues that

"the most significant prototype of The Bear [is] in

Huckleberry Finn" (197). The relationship between the two

novels, for Lewis, is most apparent in their treatment of

racial issues, "in their common sense of friendship between

black and white, in their common identification of slavery

as a kind of original sin, in their common reversal of the

conventional morality that legitimizes social injustice"

(197). Likewise, for James Nagel, "The Bear" and

Huckleberry Finn "seem to say that what is important in life

is the capacity to rise above imposed values to affirm a

code based on fundamental truth" (63). For both critics,

Faulkner arrives at such truth through Ike McCaslin's

relationship with Sam Fathers, a former slave of mixed

Indian and black blood. But like Twain, in Go Down, Moses,

Faulkner reveals an ultimate disavowal of the relationship

between black and white. Faulkner's Huck, here Ike

McCaslin, attains a sense of independence from white culture

through his relationship with Sam Fathers, yet Ike cannot

finally bring himself to accept the debt that comes with his

development, as we will see in the concluding story of the

novel, "Delta Autumn."

The narrative of Go Down, Moses leads ultimately to

Ike's renunciation of the patriarchy of Yoknapatawpha and

thus of his inheritance and his heritage, a renunciation

resulting in large part from his relationship with Sam

Fathers. Sam is the noble savage--"the wild man not even

one generation from the woods" (246)--yet he is no

Chingachgook or Queequeg. Like Twain's Jim, he is no mere

acolyte to Ike's development but catalyst for it as well.

In coming to understand Sam Fathers, Ike happens upon a new

vision of himself, shut of the moral and material dictates

of white society. His abhorrence of his ancestry's abuses

of the family's slaves is a direct corollary of his

acceptance of Sam Fathers as moral guide1.

Sam Fathers appears in Go Down, Moses, at the beginning

of "The Old People," as Ike first joins the men who go each

November to the wilderness to hunt. In teaching Ike to

become a hunter, Sam first leads the boy to a sense of

1 While Faulkner's portrayal of blacks in such stories as
"The Fire and the Hearth" and "Pantaloon in Black" provides a
significant background to Ike's perspective of Sam Fathers, I focus
here only upon that part of the text directly concerning Ike.

himself as a white man living in a duplicitous white

culture. With Sam as his guide, Ike learns a respect for

the wilderness much different from that of the white

hunters, for whom the wilderness is not a place to gain

spiritual development. When Sam shows Ike his first buck,

for instance, Ike immediately understands its symbolic value

in a way that other white characters here do not: "he did

not come into sight; he was just there, looking not like a

ghost but as if all of light were condensed in him and he

were the source of it. ." (163). In the course of his

relationship with Sam, Ike comes to see the wilderness--like

the buck--as a symbol of his freedom from society. Like

Huck Finn, Ike struggles throughout Go Down, Moses against a

white society which he views as corrupt and hypocritical.

Ike's white identity--like Huck's--must first be undermined

in order for him to develop through his relationship with

Sam Fathers.

At the outset of "the Old People," as Ike stands

awaiting the buck which the dogs are running in his

direction, Faulkner emphasizes Ike's isolation from white

culture--indeed, any culture--as he enters into his

relationship with Sam Fathers: "At first there was

nothing," the story begins, stressing Ike's detachment in

the "gray and constant light of the late November dawn."

Out of the abyss come the voices of the approaching dogs,

and, with them, Sam Fathers: "Then Sam Fathers, standing

just behind the boy as he had been standing when the boy

shot his first running rabbit with his first gun and almost

with the first load it ever carried, touched his shoulder

and he began to shake, not with any cold" (163). After

nothingness comes Sam Fathers, as though he alone is able to

fill the void left empty in the white world into which Ike

was born. Sam ushers Ike into his early manhood just as Jim

accompanies Huck into adolescence: surrogate fathers both,

they supplant inadequate or absent parental models for their

literary children.

Out of the emptiness of that morning comes the ritual

which bonds Ike with Sam, when Ike shoots his first deer, as

Sam leads him through an Indian rite of passage. The

passage in which Sam marks Ike "forever one with the

wilderness" (178) is well-known but merits examination here:

The boy did that--drew the head back and the
throat taut and drew Sam Fathers' knife across the
throat and Sam stooped and dipped his hands in the hot
smoking blood and wiped them back and forth across the
boy's face. Then Sam's horn rang in the wet gray woods
and again and again; there was a boiling wave of dogs
about them, with Tennie's Jim and Boon Hogganbeck
whipping them back after each had had a taste of the
blood, then the men, the true hunters--Walter Ewell
whose rifle never missed, and Major de Spain and old
General Compson and the boy's cousin, McCaslin Edmonds.
. sitting their horses and looking down at them: at
the old man of seventy who had been a negro for two
generations now but whose face and bearing were still
those of the Chickasaw chief who had been his father;
and the white boy of twelve with the prints of the
bloody hands on his face, who had nothing to do now but
stand straight and not let the trembling show. (164)

For the first time, a rift forms between Ike and his own

white culture after he joins with Sam through the Indian

ritual: as the "true hunters" look down upon the two of

them, Ike feels excluded from the white society he had so

much admired. And even as he feels himself distinct from

his kinsmen, the "bloody hands on his face" mark the

paternal bond that forms between himself and Sam Fathers in

this moment. When Huck declares that the search party

looking for Jim is "after us," he admits the bond between

himself and Jim which places them together against southern

society. Ike and Sam take a like posture here as Ike aligns

himself with Sam against his own kin. It is in this moment,

in which he first rescinds his white heritage, that he later

realizes "he had ceased forever to be the child he was

yesterday" (181). For Faulkner, Ike's growth is tied

inextricably to the relationship which he develops with Sam


If, as I have suggested, Faulkner represents Sam

Fathers as a noble savage--albeit one whose virility is

lessened by age--Ike's union with Sam becomes a celebration

of primitivism:

They were the white boy, marked forever, and the old
dark man sired on both sides by savage kings, who had
marked him, whose bloody hands had merely formally
consecrated him to that which, under the man's
tutelage, he had already accepted, humbly and joyfully,
with abnegation and with pride too; the hands, the
touch, the first worthy blood which he had been found
at last worthy to draw, joining him and the man
forever, so that the man would continue to live past
the boy's seventy years and then eighty years, long
after the man himself had entered the earth as chiefs
and kings entered it.... (165)

As he is wont, Faulkner portrays the moment through

religious imagery: the blood on Ike's cheeks becomes here a

mark of defilement at the same time that it reflects honor.

Ike's whiteness is shed in favor of an allegiance to the

"savage kings" who sired Sam. Faulkner bluntly portrays the

union of the two as a rejection of western values: the

sacrament is of the wilderness and Sam is its priest.

Yet if Ike proclaims a rejection of such values this

early in his life, at the same time he continues to view Sam

through the narrow filter of the white community's

stereotypes of blacks. As in Huck's experience with Jim,

however, Ike witnesses Sam's refusal to accept those

stereotypes for himself:

In the boy's eyes at least it was Sam Fathers, the
negro, who bore himself not only toward his cousin
McCaslin and Major de Spain but toward all white men,
with gravity and dignity and without servility or
recourse to that impenetrable wall of ready and easy
mirth which negroes sustain between themselves and
white men, bearing himself toward his cousin McCaslin
not only as one man to another but as an older man to a
younger. (170)

Throughout the novel, however, Ike attributes Sam's sense of

autonomy not to his individual strengths but to the "chief's

blood in him" (168) which overcomes the black and white

blood with which it is mixed. Ike cannot see Sam as an

individual because--despite his various claims to the

contrary--he cannot finally escape those cultural

stereotypes which he retains from his white identity.


In "The Bear," Faulkner underscores Ike's bond with Sam

in his use of sexual imagery to describe their relationship.

If Ike has been initiated into the wilderness in "The Old

People," he comes to sexual maturity in his union with Sam

in "The Bear":

the surrey itself seemed to have ceased to move. . as
a small solitary boat hangs in lonely immobility,
merely tossing up and down, in the infinite waste of
the ocean while the water and then the apparently
impenetrable land which it nears without appreciable
progress, swings slowly and opens the widening inlet
which is the anchorage. He entered it. Sam was
waiting, wrapped in a quilt on the wagon seat behind
the patient and steaming mules. He entered his
novitiate to the true wilderness with Sam beside him as
he had begun his apprenticeship in miniature to manhood
after the rabbits and such with Sam beside him, the two
of them wrapped in the damp, warm, negro-rank quilt
while the wilderness closed behind his entrance as it
had opened momentarily to accept him. . (195)

The imagery of the passage makes for strong support for

Leslie Fiedler's argument in "Come Back to the Raft Agin,

Huck Honey!" that such relationships are homosexual

"marriages" joined in order that the white character may

atone for his guilt over the white persecution of peoples of

color. From the "infinite waste of the ocean" which Ike

associates here with the surrey and with white culture, he

penetrates the "true wilderness" secure in his bond with Sam

under the "negro-rank quilt." Faulkner emphasizes the

sexual nature of Ike's bonding with Sam in the subsequent

paragraph, in which it occurs to Ike that he is "witnessing

his own birth." It is a birth outside the ideology of white

cultural hegemony, within the wilderness, and, ironically,

Sam Fathers is both mother and lover.

Ike's relationship with Sam, unlike Huck's relationship

with Jim, leads to a sense of purpose from which Ike will

not immediately retreat. If in the wilderness Ike decides

to "go to hell," to reject that within his white society

which is oppressive, he does not, like Huck, recoil from

acting upon this decision. His eventual repudiation of his

inheritance results directly from the moral imperatives

which he has learned from Sam Fathers. Unlike Huck Finn,

Ike is able to act upon such imperatives, but, as we will

see, Ike will not maintain his stance invariably.

When he discovers the ledgers which reveal to him the

atrocities of slavery under his grandfather, Old McCaslin,

Ike realizes that they "contained a chronological and much

more comprehensive though doubtless tedious record than he

would ever get from any other source" (268). He recognizes

that the ledgers document the history of "his people," by

which he means both white and black. Yet because of the

development he has experienced in his relationship with Sam,

Ike recognizes too that Old McCaslin has betrayed the land

by claiming ownership over it. Ike's rejection of such

claims--claims he associates with white identity--is

underscored by his recognition of the land's ability to

subdue racial differences: the ledgers are the record of

"the land which they had all held and used in common and fed

from and on and would continue to use in common without

regard to color or titular ownership" (268). Ike is further

appalled upon learning of Old McCaslin's sexual

relationships with the plantation slaves. As a result of

his discoveries, Ike repudiates his inheritance, ostensibly

forming the final break with his white culture, and he

endeavors to repay money owed the black descendants of Old


Like Huck, Ike comes to grave doubts about his southern

society, and these doubts lead him to attempt to right the

wrongs of that society. Yet his efforts, like those of

Twain's protagonist, are finally suspect because of his own

ambiguous position within that society. When Ike travels to

Alabama to return money to Tennie, a daughter and

granddaughter of Old McCaslin, Tennie's husband rebuffs him.

Ike attempts to convince Tennie's husband to take the money

so that they may leave the South forever, but Ike's efforts

reveal his ultimate reservations concerning racial parity:

'Don't you see?' he cried. 'Don't you see? This
whole land, the whole South, is cursed, and all of us
who derive from it, whom it ever suckled, white and
black both, lie under the curse? Granted that my
people brought the curse onto the land: maybe for that
reason their descendants alone can--not resist it, not
combat it--maybe just endure and outlast it until the
curse is lifted. Then your peoples' turn will come
because we have forfeited ours. But not now. Not yet.
Don't you see?' (278)

As we will see in Intruder in the Dust, such passages are

typical of Faulkner. Each time Faulkner's white characters

come to a sense of the justice of racial equality, that

recognition serves only to make them more keenly aware of

the impossibility of any such equality in the present South,

a position closely resembling that which Faulkner himself


In the final story of Go Down, Moses in which Ike

figures, "Delta Autumn," his symbolic rejection of Sam

Fathers and his return to a patriarchal position within

Yoknapatawpha society becomes complete. Fragile and aging,

Ike returns to the woods to hunt with his cousin Roth and

others. Too feeble to go out on the hunt one morning, he

meets Roth's black mistress who comes looking for Roth

because she is pregnant with his child. After speaking with

her for some time, Ike finally realizes that she is not

white: "Maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in

America, he thought. But not now! Not now!" He cried, not

loud, in a voice of amazement, pity, and outrage: 'You're a

nigger!'" (361). Thus by the end of the novel Ike has

become an apologist for the southern patriarchy. His

assertion parallels Huck's assessment that Jim was "white

inside," for, like Huck, Ike cannot accept a black person

within his white society. Finally he sends the woman away:

"'Then go,' he said. Then he cried out again in that thin

not loud grieving voice: 'Get out of here! I can do nothing

for you! Cant nobody do nothing for you!'" (361). Yet he

cannot allow her to leave with nothing more than that

between them: "'Wait,' he said. She paused again,

obediently still, turning. He took up the sheaf of

banknotes and laid it on the blanket at the foot of the cot

and drew his hand back beneath the blanket. 'There,' he

said" (361). Like the payment that Tom Sawyer makes to Jim,

Ike's act here is manipulative, an apology for the guilt he

feels. Ironically, Ike, who has rejected materialism

throughout his life in large part because of his

relationship with Sam Fathers, can offer no more than money.

When Roth's mistress tells Ike that she will return to

the North, he quickly encourages her:

"That's right. Go back North. Marry: a man of your
own race. That's the only salvation for you --- for a
while yet, maybe a long while yet. We will have to
wait. Marry a black man. You are young, handsome,
almost white; you could find a black man who would see
in you what it was you saw in him, who would ask
nothing of you and expect less and get even still less
than that, if it's revenge you want. The you will
forget all this, forget it ever happened, that he ever
existed --" until he could stop it at last and did,
sitting there in his huddle of blankets during the
instant when, without moving at all, she blazed down
silently at him. Then that was gone too. She stood in
the gleaming and still dripping slicker; looking
quietly down at him from under the sodden hat.
"Old man," she said, "have you lived so long and
forgotten so much that you don't remember anything you
ever knew or felt or even heard about love?" (363)

Ike sends the woman away from the South, for he is no longer

able to conceive of the possibility of relationships between

black and white. If, as a young man, he had been closer to

Sam Fathers than anyone else, he now rejects the possibility

for such rapport across racial lines. Here, of course, he

is rejecting as well the possibility of a romantic

relationship between Roth and the woman, but he is


duplicitous even in this: even as he sends the woman away he

claims for himself an enlightened perspective. "We will

have to wait," he says, as though his waiting involves a

grief similar to hers. The moment is an ironic reversal of

the earlier bonding between Ike and Sam Fathers, and yet the

woman's rebuke recognizes Ike's hypocrisy. In her

recognition we see Faulkner implicitly criticizing the

return to stereotype to which he has guided his white


For a second time in Ike's life, his moral guide is

black, yet here he is unable to respond as he had earlier to

Sam Fathers. Instead, he now rejects the lessons which the

woman purports to teach him and sends her off. If, as he

claimed earlier in the text, "Sam Fathers set me free," Ike

has at the end of the novel returned to the white society

from which he was set free. While he sheds the white man's

burden--the notion of paternal relationship with blacks

which comes with land ownership--at the beginning in his

relationship with Sam Fathers, he takes it back upon himself

here in sending the woman north, assuming a paternal control

over her which he had earlier denied himself.


In Intruder in the Dust (1948), Faulkner directly

addresses the plight of blacks in the modern South, and, as

in Go Down, Moses, he does so in a novel in which an

adolescent male protagonist looks to an older man of mixed

race as an acolyte to higher consciousness. At the outset

of the novel, all of Yoknapatawpha County believes that

Lucas Beauchamp, a character of Indian and African blood who

offers a clear parallel to Sam Fathers, has killed Vinson

Gowrie. Gowrie, a white man, comes from Beat Four, a

section of the county into which the only stranger to enter

"with impunity was God and He only by daylight and on

Sunday" (36). Nearly everyone in the county believes that

Beauchamp, a proud and steadfastly independent anomaly in

the white community's understanding of blacks and mulattoes,

will soon be hanged by Gowrie's rough-hewn kin, since such

is the certain fate of a black man accused of murdering a

white man in Mississippi at mid-century.

Charles "Chick" Mallison, Jr., Faulkner's young

protagonist, has known Lucas for some time prior to his

arrest: when Chick fell into a frozen creek years earlier,

Lucas rescued him with a sense of reservation that maddened

Chick. As he now watches Lucas being taken into the town

jail, Chick remembers crawling up the bank of the creek

until he saw two feet in gum boots which were neither
Edmonds' boy's nor Aleck Sander's and then the legs,
the overalls rising out of them and he climbed on and
stood up and saw a Negro man with an axe on his
shoulder, in a heavy sheep-lined coat and a broad pale
felt hat such as his grandfather had used to wear,
looking at him and that was when he saw Lucas Beauchamp
for the first time because you don't forget Lucas
Beauchamp; gasping, shaking and only now feeling the
shock of the cold water, he looked up at the face which

was just watching him without pity commiseration or
anything else, not even surprise. . (6)

Lucas, as a black savior, both delivers and baptizes Chick,

and in the process he effectively counters Chick's

assumptions about blacks by being neither obsequious nor

submissive. Chick in turn attempts to force Lucas into a

subservient role in their relationship. He insists, for

instance, on paying Lucas for his services, but his efforts

are to no avail: Lucas refuses such payment, thus

maintaining his own autonomous stance within this southern

society. Just such a stance landed him in jail, of course,

and Chick will have to grant it to Lucas if he is to

separate himself from the white community symbolized by

Gowrie on the one hand and Chick's patrician uncle, Gavin

Stevens, on the other.

Watching the jail which Lucas has entered, Chick

recalls the times since Lucas rescued him that the two have

met on the street. Each time their meetings are convivial

until once when "Lucas looked straight at him, straight into

his eyes from five feet away and passed him and he [Chick]

thought He has forgotten me. He doesn't even remember me

anymore" (24). When Chick learns from his uncle that

Lucas's wife Molly had died just before this meeting, Chick

sees Lucas in human terms for the first time: "That was why

he didn't see me . thinking with a kind of amazement: He

was grieving. You don't have to be not a nigger in order to

grieve" (24-25). Chick's epiphany parallels the epiphanies


which Huck experiences upon the river after deceiving Jim in

the fog passage and later when he realizes that Jim grieves

for the wife and children he has left behind. Like Huck,

Chick here assumes that his black mentor has no experience

beyond that which the two of them share--thus his surprise

at Lucas' apparent ability to forget him--or, at best, Chick

assumes that Lucas's other experiences carry no emotional


Yet if Chick has previously removed Lucas from

stereotype, he demonstrates a vengeful desire, shortly after

seeing him taken into the jail, to return him to that

stereotype. "Your friend Beauchamp seems to have done it

this time," Gavin Stevens says to Chick, who responds,

"'Yes. . They're going to make a nigger out of him once in

his life anyway'" (31-32). Having been humbled when Lucas

steadfastly refused to take money for rescuing Chick, Chick

is now anxious for a measure of revenge as the novel opens,

despite his earlier acknowledgment of Lucas's individuality.

Coming with his uncle to the jail, Chick is surprised

to see Lucas asleep in the cell: "He's just a nigger after

all for his high nose and his stiff neck and his gold watch-

chain and refusing to mean mister to anybody even when he

says it" (58), he concludes. And he continues his

assessment by heaping further stereotypes upon Lucas: "Only

a nigger could kill a man, let alone shoot him in the back,

and then sleep like a baby as soon as he found something

flat enough to lie down on" (58). Yet despite his desire

to return Lucas to a stereotyped position--a desire he

contends throughout the novel--Chick is never fully able to

do so.

From jail, Lucas has specific plans for Chick.

Recalling the favor that the boy owes him, Lucas asks Chick

to dig up Vinson Gowrie's body to prove that Lucas did not

murder Gowrie. From this point in the novel forward,

Intruder in the Dust becomes a detective story with a goodly

measure of race consciousness mixed in. When Chick and his

young black friend Aleck Sander dig up the grave, they

discover that Lucas in fact did not kill Gowrie. In the

course of this discovery, Chick gains respect for Lucas

despite Lucas's cool detachment and authoritative stance

against all people of the county, black and white.

The parallels between Intruder in the Dust and

Huckleberry Finn are many. Indeed, Intruder can be read as

a supplanted ending for Twain's novel, appearing as it did

at the beginning of the great critical controversy over

Twain's much-maligned conclusion. In the final third of

Huck Finn, Huck and Tom set out under vastly different

pretenses to free Jim from slavery. For Huck, Jim's

enslavement is morally wrong, if only because he has found

such a subservient friend in Jim. As we have seen, Tom

Sawyer has no such moral dilemma; Tom knows that Jim's

continued enslavement is illegal because Miss Watson has

freed her slave in her will, giving Tom free rein to

manipulate both Jim and Huck into performing the elaborate

evasion. Likewise, in Intruder in the Dust, two boys--one

black and one white--set out to free a black man, Lucas

Beauchamp, who, like Jim, has been wrongly imprisoned.

Chick's friend Aleck Sander, however, is no practical joker

like Tom Sawyer: Aleck Sander is instead very much immersed

in Lucas' plight, fearing as he does that he may be punished

by white lynch mobs simply for being out on the street in

the midst of the white community's anger. Rather than

reducing the black character to a freedom gained at the

hands of playful adolescents, as Twain does, Faulkner here

empowers Lucas by portraying his sense of autonomy within an

oppressive white culture. And it is this autonomy that

Chick questions throughout.

Chick looks to Gavin Stevens for paternal guidance, and

Stevens repeatedly encourages Chick to stereotype Lucas.

Stevens is the one character here who speaks lucidly and at

length about racial conflict in the South, yet his views,

like Faulkner's, are clearly patriarchal in nature. He sees

himself as a great white father, and he expects Chick to

inherit such a status. Chick, of course, is caught between

a white world represented by Stevens and a black one

represented by Lucas. Stevens develops into a figure

typical of southern fiction in his lengthy and duplicitous

pronouncements on race, a figure dating back to Alfred St.

Clare in Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Like St. Clare before

him, and like Harper Lee's Atticus Finch to follow,

Stevens's character is fraught with contradiction. Even as

he claims to represent a reasoned view of southern race

relations, we see the inherent racism in that view.

Stevens' pronouncements on race are at the center of

the novel, and, while maintaining great distance from Lucas,

he nevertheless does what he can to save him from the hands

of the angry lynch mob. Upon his arrival at the jail,

Stevens the patriarch confronts Lucas with both advice and

reprimand: "'Lucas,' he said, 'has it ever occurred to you

that if you just said mister to white people and said it

like you meant it, you might not be sitting here now?'"

(62). Lucas's response characterizes the autonomous stance

he takes throughout the novel: "So I'm to commence now,'

Lucas said. 'I can start off by saying mister to the folks

that drags me out of here and builds a fire under me'" (62).

Lucas's irony in the situation reflects the independence

which he will maintain throughout the novel. Through his

irony, Lucas depicts the hypocrisy of genuflecting before

men such as the lynch mob which he awaits.

Like Huck Finn caught between white and black worlds,

Chick vacillates between the two figures of his uncle and

Lucas Beauchamp. In listening to his uncle, Chick envisions

a view of southern race relations which he must balance

against his own practical experience. Stevens maintains


that white southerners "must resist the North" because they

must retain the right to set blacks ("Sambo") free in their

own time. "It will have to be us," he claims, to free

blacks so that "someday Lucas Beauchamp can shoot a white

man in the back with the same impunity to lynch-rope or

gasoline as a white man" and vote wherever he likes and send

his children to any school he chooses. "But it wont be next

Tuesday," he concludes, despite what people in the North

might think, who have forgotten "that Lucas Beauchamp's

master was not merely beaten to his knees but trampled for

ten years on his face in the dust to make him swallow it"

(189). The power that Gavin Stevens claims must be retained

for southern whites is of course the same that antebellum

southern whites claimed in order to maintain the cultural

hegemony under which blacks were obligated to whites for any

freedoms which they obtain.

The 'intruder in the dust' in the novel is of course

Chick, who intrudes into not only Gowrie's grave but also

into the weight of southern history and southern race

relations. As many critics have suggested, the character of

Gavin Stevens is in large part a mouthpiece for Faulkner's

own views on the burgeoning civil rights movement and the

resistance it met with among white southerners. But if

Stevens speaks largely for Faulkner, Faulkner nonetheless

creates Chick, who finally cannot bring himself to accept

fully the patriarchal beliefs which his uncle espouses.

Chick's presence at the center of the racial strife

portrayed in the novel ensures that the point of view

throughout will remain firmly in the hands of the character

who most closely resembles Huck Finn.

At the conclusion of the novel, Lucas insists on paying

for Gavin and Chick's services, asserting his independent

position relative to their white society. This directly

contrasts with the conclusion of Huckleberry Finn, in which

Tom Sawyer pays Jim forty dollars for his inconvenience and

Jim joyfully celebrates wealth regained. Still, however,

Faulkner's novel ends in stasis: given a choice between a

role as a white patriarch in his society and a role as one

who overcomes the stereotyping of the black community

necessitated by patriarchal condescension, Chick finally

cannot act. Like Huck he is primarily an observer. If Huck

Finn lights out for the Territory rather than confront the

imperatives of his own conscience, Chick Mallison is equally

passive in his inability to take a stance in his southern



"Going North, there is a discriminatory tariff on the

heart," (xxi) Elizabeth Spencer wrote in an introduction to

a 1965 edition of The Voice at the Back Door (1956). She

added that, while living in Italy (as she was when writing

the novel), she found it "very exciting to write about the

South" because, from that distance, "the outlines of [the

issue of race] stood out very clearly in my mind" (xviii).

In explaining just what became clear for her, she revealed

the patriarchal attitude which she held toward blacks in the


I missed Negroes. If you have always lived where half
the population is black (at least half, for I knew far
more Negroes than white people until I got sent to
school), then when you leave that, you feel the world
is lacking something, and then you know you are wishing
to see black skins around. Somehow one never imagined
that there would come a time when they wouldn't be
there. To write in this book about as many Negroes as
I thought I could convincingly imagine was a way of
being with them. I liked writing those parts (xviii).

Spencer's language here reveals the stereotypes implicit in

her novel. She missed not individuals but "Negroes," a mass

of men and women cast in a vastly inferior position to

Spencer as she grew up among them. Despite Spencer's

declaration of such racial nostalgia, however, she develops

upon Twain's pattern in significant ways in The Voice at the

Back Door, particularly in her portrayal of a black

character in an autonomous stance relative to southern

whites. Like William Faulkner, Spencer undermines the

literary stereotypes of the South even as she employs them

to structure her novel.

The Voice at the Back Door closely parallels Faulkner's

Intruder in the Dust in its consideration of the plight of a

black man in a small southern town at mid-century. Spencer's

novel opens with the death of Travis Brevard, sheriff of

Lacey, Mississippi: Brevard comes to Duncan Harper's grocery

store to die because he is as unwilling to have his wife

"spread me out on a pink bedspread and stick a thermometer

in my mouth" (9) as he is to embarrass Ida Belle, his

"nigger woman," by leaving her to arrange for his corpse.

Brevard's last wish is that Harper, a former star running

back and local hero, take over the duties of the sheriff's

office. Brevard exemplifies the old order of the South, as

we see in his illicit relationship with Ida Belle and in his

quiet acceptance of protection money from the local

bootleggers. Brevard's death exposes the roots of Lacey's

racial identity, when Duncan immediately begins to campaign

for sheriff promising racial equality and an end to the


Set in the early 1950s, the plot centers upon the

tensions of racial conflict in the rural South, symbolized

by the two men who vie to succeed Brevard: Duncan Harper,

who as acting sheriff finds himself embroiled in a bitter

fight to rid Winfield County of a bootlegging operation

owned in part by Harper's friend Jimmy Tallant, and Willard

Follansbee, a candidate who will blindly support the

bootlegging operation and who fervently embraces

segregation. The rivalry between Harper and Jimmy Tallant

develops in Harper's campaign for sheriff: Harper's benign

attitude toward blacks, in combination with his opposition

to bootlegging, threaten to cost him the election. In the

midst of the controversy is Beckwith Dozer, a black man

whose autonomous position in Lacey society enflames the

racial consciousness of the town. Dozer, like Lucas

Beauchamp in Intruder, acts as a catalyst for each of the

principal events of the novel.

Duncan Harper's relationship with Beck Dozer closely

parallels the relationship which Twain establishes between

Huck and Jim. Harper first encounters Dozer shortly after

Travis Brevard has died. Dozer fears that his son, W.B.,

will lose his job carrying groceries at Harper's store for

having run from the store as Sheriff Brevard was dying, and

he seeks out Harper to make certain this will not happen.

Just as important to Dozer, though, is determining whether

Harper intends to run for sheriff himself. "It's no

business of yours" (18), Harper replies to the question.

Not easily put off, Dozer responds that his "acquaintance

is not cultivated" because, as a black man in the South, he

lacks a vote. As the two stand, ironically, in the county

courthouse, Harper for the first time finds himself

confronted with the question of racial equality by a black

man, and, despite his own like sentiments, he attempts to

rid himself of Dozer by evoking a stereotyped response:

"That kind of talk's no good, he seemed to be merely

remarking. On your way, boy" (19).


Yet Dozer will not be denied and here forces Harper to

see him (Dozer) as an individual by declaring his own name

and tying it to his father's murder:

The Negro withdrew from the shadow of the big white
man, but he was still erect when he stopped in the door
and said, "My name is Beckwith Dozer, Mister Harper.
When I was a small child, my father was shot to death
upstairs in this courthouse. I never been inside here
before tonight."
"Oh, I see." Their eyes met and though they were
alone in an empty building, and no one knew they were
there, it seemed that the world listened, that a new
way of speaking was about to form in an old place.
They were a little helpless, too, like children waiting
to be prompted. What should the words be? (19)

Unable to find the words, nor indeed this new identity they

seek, Harper and Dozer part, but not before Dozer wishes

Harper luck in the campaign for sheriff. Harper is left

savoring Dozer's words "like the taste of something new,

trying to decide if they mocked him, or spoke sincerely, but

he could not" (19).

The mistrust between the two coincides with that

between Faulkner's characters in Intruder in the Dust; like

Faulkner and Twain, Spencer clearly conceives of her text as

a political tract as the relationship in the novel between

black man and white develops. Indeed, like Faulkner before

her, she portrays the confrontation between black and white

as a dance equally mixed in enmity and dependency. For

Spencer, the relationship can advance only through an

elaborate structure of deception and manipulation. Here, as

in Intruder, the pair cannot gain even an outward sense of

accommodation such as that we see in Twain's novel. Each of

these southern novels turns upon this mistrust, though,

unlike Twain, Faulkner and Spencer are careful not to

mystify the relationship with sentiment: in both Intruder

and The Voice at the Back Door, the reader, like the

antagonists, must confront the awkwardness of the

relationship between black and white characters.

Harper's next encounter with Beck Dozer, which lends

the novel its title, occurs when Dozer comes to Harper's

back door and requests protection from the white man he

claims to have been fighting:

The Negro had not knocked, but had stood saying,
"Mister Harper? Mister Harper?" over and over, and now
that they [Harper and his wife] saw him it seemed they
had heard him for certain all the time, for no telling
how long, for it is part of the consciousness of a
southern household that a Negro is calling at the back
door in the night. (90)

Dozer claims to have been fighting with Bud Grantham, a

local bootlegger, over a bottle of whiskey. Harper believes

that Dozer would have been better off to get out of town

completely, considering Grantham's violent disposition, but

Dozer plays upon Harper's liberal sentiments so that Harper

will instead agree to custody protection: "If a Negro never

takes advantage of what legal rights are open to him, he

can't hope to enjoy those that ought to be open and ain't.

You are the law, Mister Harper. I have come to you" (93).

Dozer, like Spencer, plays upon the literary stereotype of

the white saint in order to convince Harper to help him, and

Harper agrees to take Dozer into custody in the small jail


downtown. When they arrive there, Harper waits inside the

jail with Dozer.

Waiting together in the jail cell, Dozer tells Harper

that he is either "the only white man around with

principles, or everybody else is stitching their principles

together out of a different bolt of goods" (111). Dozer's

apparent faith in Duncan Harper arouses in both Harper and

the reader a sympathetic response. Yet, here, as opposed to

parallel situations in both Huck Finn and Intruder in the

Dust, there is little or nothing at stake: we soon find that

Dozer's dilemma is actually a ruse formed so that Jimmy

Tallant and other political opponents of Harper's can

photograph Harper defending Dozer in the jail. They will

then portray him publicly as a defender of equal rights for

blacks, a stance sure to lose Harper the election. Dozer

has been paid to act out this scene with Harper; thus, the

voice at the back door, in this case, is completely

unreliable. Harper, like the reader, has been duped by a

faith in the literary stereotypes established in the earlier

novel. Spencer undercuts the Huck-Jim relationship through

Dozer's complete lack of reliability: he pretends to admire

Harper but of course he does so only on the dole.

But it is precisely because Dozer is so wholly

unreliable here in the early sections of the novel that the

emotional entreaties of the narrator fall flat: the

narrator's assertion that the white southerner has a moral

obligation to blacks tugging at the edge of his/her

conscience ("...it is part of the consciousness of a

southern household that a Negro is calling at the back door

in the night" [90]) is undermined by her subsequent

portrayal of Beck Dozer as suspect and hypocritical.

Spencer directly parodies Faulkner's representations of

racial conflict in Intruder in the Dust in her novel,

finally emphasizing not Dozer's dependence upon the white

community but rather his ability to successfully manipulate

it. Dozer's request for custody here and the consequent

confrontation with the lynching party recall Lucas

Beauchamp's dilemma in Intruder. Further, Harper's

reassurance to his friend Kerney Woolbright that Dozer will

not be lynched overtly refers to the literary stereotypes

employed by white southern writers such as Faulkner and

Erskine Caldwell in portraying racial hostility:

"It's raining too hard to lynch a nigger. It's too
"It's what?"
"It's the wrong time of year, too. These things are
supposed to happen in the middle of September after it
hasn't rained for forty weeks, after all the cattle
have died of thirst and their stench rolls in from the
country and there's so much dust the sun looks bloody
all day long. Isn't that right?"
"I never did either," said Kerney. "All I know is
what I read in William Faulkner" (101).

Duncan's irony undermines the gravity of the predicament

that he and Woolbright face. Peggy Whitman Prenshaw

suggests that this scene exemplifies the manner in which

Spencer "co-opts the Faulkner presence by dramatizing it as

a force within the novel [Voice] itself" (64). Spencer is

thus able to employ the motifs of southern literature even

as she maintains an ironic distance from them. In laying

the ground for southern literary stereotyping, Spencer takes

care to lay it with the mines of irony. She deliberately

upsets literary stereotypes of race, at every turn upsetting

the reader's expectations.

After the jail house photographs appear in northern

newspapers sympathetic to civil rights, Duncan Harper's

campaign for sheriff is apparently lost, and he must attempt

to salvage it by enticing Dozer to publicly admit to his

participation in the ruse. Dozer initially rejects Harper's

plea despite Harper's apparently liberal agenda:

"You've seen a light these days," Harper went on.
"All of you have. You keep casting around for the best
way. You want to deal equally with white men but you
don't know who to trust. You'd rather have Mr. Willard
Follansbee in office instead of me?"
"To be honest with you, Mister Harper, I prefer the
status quo. You can climb the status quo like a step
ladder with two feet on the floor, but trying to trail
along behind a white man of good will is like following
along behind somebody on a tightrope. As he gets along
towards the middle his problems are likely to increase,
and soon he gots to turn loose of me to help himself"

Beck Dozer is unable to disregard the personal investment

that Harper has in attempting to gain Dozer's assistance,

and here Spencer acknowledges the ephemeral nature of the

Huck-Jim relationship. Though Duncan Harper and Beck Dozer

ultimately enter into just such a relationship, they do so

only after fully recognizing the extent to which their

association is the result of their separate machinations.

Once they do recognize the extent to which they have

been manipulating one another, however, both men find

comfort in a shared sense of dependence. Symbolic of their

recognition of this dependence is their examination of the

library of texts in Latin which Dozer's father inherited

from a Senator Upinshaw, the first white man in Lacey to

demonstrate a genuine concern for blacks. They enter the

library declaring their openness to one another: "You are

the first white man I ever showed the inside to," Dozer

says, and Harper replies that Dozer is "the first Negro I

ever invited to my house" (139). Yet Dozer is still

reluctant to help Harper expose how Jimmy Tallant got the

picture in the jail:

He turned finally to Harper. "I tell you, Mister
Harper, you are the only white man to see inside my
papa's school, but Mister Jimmy Tallant knows its there
because he asked me once what it was.... Mister
Tallant and I, were yoked up together, you might say.
There isn't anything one of us thinks that the other
hasn't thought too. They say a nigger's got to belong
to some white man."
"You believe that?"
"No," said Dozer, and sighed.
"I won't force you to come," said Harper, "or pay
you anything for doing it."
"Lord knows the Granthams will have my hide on the
door before night come, if I do this."
"I count on Mr. Tallant," said Harper, "I don't
think he'll let them hurt you."
"You don't think! It's not you, it's me!"
"It might be me! It could be me! Don't you know it
might come to that?"
"All right then. I'll come."
When the gate stood between them again, Dozer asked
him, "Why you wants to act like this, Mister Harper?"

and one of his dark cheeks gleamed wet, smeared down
from the gold rim of his glasses lens.
"No reason," Harper returned. "I want to do what's
right, I guess. That's all." (139-140)

Harper here offers Dozer his 'freedom' from Jimmy Tallant,

and the passage recalls Huck's decision to "go to hell" and

set Jim free from slavery. Like Huck, Duncan Harper here

takes on apparent risks of his own, and, also like Huck, who

can't stand the gnawing pangs of conscience which hound him

as he contemplates sending his letter to Miss Watson, Harper

stands to gain from his decision. Where Huck's compensation

is psychological, Duncan's is material: he has no other

option if he wishes to be elected sheriff. And it is not

until Harper makes his own risk apparent that Dozer is

willing to accept Harper's offer. Both characters come to

link their separate causes here only after having recognized

the risk which each of them takes in doing so.

Despite their scheming, Spencer explicitly attempts to

portray the scene as a moment of transcendence for both men.

If, like Huck (and like Mrs. Stowe), Harper acknowledges

here that he simply wants to do "what's right," Dozer's

agreement is an acknowledgment of his need to escape the

yoke of tradition. And yet, in the midst of this

unburdening of guilt, Spencer willfully employs

stereotypical language in describing Beck Dozer's son as "a

savage" immediately prior to this passage. Traditions have

a way of maintaining themselves: the stereotyped ideology

implied in such a description undermines Spencer's attempt

here to shed this scene of the irony which pervaded the

earlier scene in the jailhouse.

Spencer's achievements in The Voice at the Back Door

are many: like Faulkner, she recognizes a complexity in her

black characters that Twain could not, and each of her

primary characters is wrought with ambiguity and self-

contradiction. The central pattern in the novel, however,

in which Harper and Dozer come to see each other as

individuals caught in a typed society (and, indeed, a typed

genre), is undermined in the final third of the novel by the

stereotypes which Spencer employs in portraying blacks. She

makes frequent reference to the "savage" nature of the

blacks (a nature that, for Spencer, blacks struggle to

overcome yet are finally chained to) in this section of her

novel, even as she attempts to demonstrate the ways in which

whites and blacks can benefit from interdependence.

When Willard Follansbee, the candidate opposing Harper

in the race for sheriff, rapes Dozer's wife, Lucy, Spencer

writes only of Lucy's "savage instinct" (232) and not of any

such instinct on Follansbee's part: "Lucy turned her head

aside. She was conscious of the white man's slack jaw where

the stiff black hair roots were visible like punctures and

the breath moved in and out. She went dull all over,

animal, African, obedient to the whip" (230). As Lucy

returns to her home after the rape, Spencer addresses her

white reader in a lengthy passage which ties Lucy (and the

rape) to the experience of all blacks in the South,

suggesting that Follansbee's brutality is somehow necessary

to the white man's "will to survive:"

Black people are night people, and you do not drive
a southern road at any unearthly hour without seeing
them along the roadsides, going somewhere, or marking
at a distance across the field the oil lamp burning
full wick within the cabin. Sometimes, passing near a
cabin that is totally dark as though for sleep, one
hears break out again the low mingling of many voices;
no crisis has brought them there, but the instinctive
motion of their strange society has behaved like a
current deep down in the river, and here they are.
Savage, they came to a savage land. White people,
already appalled by floods and rattlesnakes, malaria,
swamps, tornadoes, mud, ice, sunstroke, and typhoid
fever, felt compelled to levee out the black with the
same ruthless patience with which they levied the
Mississippi River. They were driven to do what they
did, not by any conviction of right or wrong, but by
the simple will to survive. Meanwhile, Negroes married
the land. Its image is never complete without them; if
they are out of the picture, they are only just around
the corner, coming or going, or both. They are not
really as afraid in the night as most white people are.
Whiteness is a kind of nakedness to the dark world, and
Lucy, who had all the fear she could do with, went to
no trouble to imagine more. She moved on in her
blackness, and her heart, sick and numb, burned tender
as the eye of a night creature, alive in the dark.

The authorial aside reveals the depths of Spencer's own

primitivist perspective, an ideological position much more

within the culture she critiques than outside it: Spencer

appears to be informed more by Thomas Dixon, Jr. than Mark

Twain in such descriptions of blacks. In addressing "the

instinctive motion of their strange society," Spencer

directly confronts the racial issues at the heart of her

novel, yet she does so in a manner which links her to the

very prejudices and stereotypes she ostensibly sets out to

right. She is finally unable to enter the perspective of

the black characters she portrays and thus they remain

figments of her white imagination.

With Duncan Harper, Jimmy Tallant shares a sense of

obligation to Beck Dozer. If Harper is linked to Dozer

through a vague sense of guilt and moral responsibility,

however, Tallant is inextricably tied to Beck Dozer ("Mister

Tallant and I, were yoked up together, you might say.") for

more explicit reasons. It was Tallant's father who brutally

murdered Dozer's father, Robinson Dozer, along with eleven

other black citizens of Lacey, in the courthouse thirty

years before the action of the novel takes place. This

event is still very much a part of the consciousness of

Lacey, and the bond between Dozer and Tallant is one which,

like that between Harper and Dozer, is bound up in both

resentment and need. Dozer recognizes the significance of

the bond in telling Harper: "Mister Tallant and I are tied

together on account of what his daddy did to mine. He

wouldn't lose me, nor let me come to harm for anything in

this world. He's my main protection in this life (136)."

The link between the two men exemplifies the relationship of

white community to black in the modern South: Tallant

provides "protection" for Dozer against the ill will of

other white men in order to expiate past sins.

Not long after the ruse at the jail house, Beck Dozer

finds himself in a predicament much more dire. Jimmy

Tallant is shot by men from outside the county who are

attempting to take a stake in Tallant's bootlegging

operation by lending money to Willard Follansbee's election

campaign. When the white community blames Dozer for the

shooting, his only alternative is to run. With the election

drawing near, frustration in the county runs high because

Harper has failed to apprehend Dozer, and Willard Follansbee

exploits Harper's inability to capture Dozer. On the eve of

the election, as the candidates give their campaign

speeches, Harper gets word from Dozer's nephew that Dozer is

ready to come in to jail. Harper races away to get Dozer

before a lynch mob can reach him. In the process, he

defends Dozer against two men who want "to scare the hell

out of him" (334) to prove to him that blacks are not equal

to whites." When Harper defends Dozer, the men turn the

brunt of their anger on Harper:

The two men did not want to give ground.
"I hear you're against segregation, want to let the
niggers vote," said the tall one. "Is that right?"
Duncan flushed. "Why don't you go to the speaking
and hear what I've got to say?"
"Why should I if you can tell me yes or no right
now? Do you or don't you?"
"I haven't got time to waste on you," Duncan said.
"Waste (Spencer's italics) on us? You don't talk
much like a politician to me. You ask for our vote and
you're talking like that?"
"You can vote for whoever you want to," said Duncan.
"The way you're talking, I wouldn't want to claim you
on my side." (334)

Having defended Dozer earlier to no avail because Dozer was

never truly in danger, he proves himself an ally yet again.

He is however, a martyr for the cause: Harper dies when he

wrecks his car while being pursued by the lynch mob on the

way to town.

At the novel's conclusion, for all the action of the

novel, little has changed: Harper symbolically sacrifices

himself for the cause of racial equality but it is an empty

act and one that, apparently, will effect no change. Jimmy

Tallant leads Dozer through the angry mob surrounding the

wreck near the end of the novel, but he has never done less:

Tallant is once again Dozer's "main protection in life."

This fact betrays the apparent intention of the author to

reveal growth in the course of the novel rather than

stagnation. As in Huckleberry Finn, the role of the white

saint is first and foremost to serve--however tenuous or

deceptive such service might be--as martyr for a cause that

is not his own: having done that, no change need be


Like Huckleberry Finn and Intruder in the Dust, and

indeed like many of the novels I discuss here, The Voice at

the Back Door becomes a modern-day slave narrative in which

a black man is unjustly accused of a crime he did not

commit. And, as in each of the novels by white authors I'm

discussing, the black character here is shown to be

dependent upon the generosity of the white community and

upon one white character in particular. Unlike his first

request for protection from Duncan Harper, the stakes for

Beck Dozer at the novel's end are real and Dozer's

relationship with Harper becomes critical for both men.

Dozer depends upon Harper's patronage for his life and

Harper is bound to lose his election for sheriff if he is

unable to bring Dozer in to prison in order to prove his own



If Faulkner and Spencer employ Twain's model

ironically, variously parodying Twain and paralleling him,

we see in the next chapter two writers at mid-century,

Carson McCullers and Harper Lee, who are more faithful to a

southern mythology which Twain, in large measure





Carson McCullers, in The Member of the Wedding, and

Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mockingbird, adapt Twain's pattern-

-a developing southern mythology pertaining to race--as they

develop their narratives. Both novels portray white girls

whose mothers are absent and who look to their black

servants for counsel. McCullers, however, equips Frankie

Addams's black mentor, Berenice, with a degree of autonomy

comparable to that of Faulkner's Lucas Beauchamp, while Lee

throughout her novel portrays black characters wholly

dependent upon whites and the white community for their



Like Huck Finn, Frankie Addams of Carson McCullers' The

Member of the Wedding (1946) seeks a new sense of identity,

a theme alluded to in her recurrent name and costume

changes. Because her mother has died and her father

increasingly distances himself from her, Frankie ultimately

looks to Berenice, her family's black cook, as a moral

guide. Ironically, however, even as she clings to Berenice

for such guidance, Frankie feels that she must remain aloof

from Berenice in order to establish her emerging sense of

identity. McCullers thus establishes Berenice as a moral

standard, and Frankie's repeated attempts to escape the

black world which Berenice represents--and her repeated

returns to that world--give shape and focus to her ultimate

identity. In her romantic notions of joining her older

brother and his new wife on their honeymoon, she believes

that she has found a path which will lead her to maturity

and away from the childhood world which she associates with

Berenice and with black identity. When Berenice cautiously

tries to dissuade Frankie from her plan, Frankie suspects

her of being jealous.

Frankie sees Berenice in various white stereotypes of

blacks: as Margaret McDowell argues, for Frankie, Berenice

is variously "affectionate or stern mother, the primitive

seer, and the black queen who once lived with her dream

lover" (81). Berenice, however, refuses to accept such

stereotypes for herself, and she attempts to compel Frankie

to look upon her as an individual.

The black world dominated by Berenice is, for Frankie,

fractured and incomplete and thus is one which accurately

reflects her own state of mind. In her brother's wedding,

Frankie seeks a unity beyond her childhood, which is

inextricably tied to Berenice. From the opening pages of

the novel, Frankie feels ill at ease in the kitchen--"a sad

and ugly room" in Frankie's view, covered with her cousin

John Henry's "queer child drawings, as far up as his arm

could reach" (4)--which is the the one room which she

associates directly with Berenice. Thus McCullers

associates Berenice with childhood from the beginning of her

novel, and as Frankie longs to grow up and out of childhood,

she must likewise long to grow out of her relationship with

Berenice: the kitchen soon looks for her "like a room in the

crazy-house. And now the old kitchen made Frankie sick.

The name for what had happened to her Frankie did not know,

but she could feel her squeezed heart beating against the

table edge" (4). It is a world from which, like Huck,

Frankie wishes she "could just light out" (6), yet her

apparent reliance upon Berenice leaves her unable to do so.

Berenice recognizes Frankie's dilemma throughout, insisting

that Frankie confront her own identity: "You jealous [of

the wedding]. . Go and behold yourself in the mirror. I

can see from the color in your eye" (2).

If Berenice encourages Frankie to seek out her own

identity, however, Frankie for her part attempts to filter

her own experience through Berenice's perspective.

Immediately after her brother and his fiance have come to

visit, Frankie asks Berenice to recount the visit for her

once again:

"Tell me," she said. "Tell me exactly how it
"You know!" said Berenice. "You seen them."
"But tell me," Frankie said. (26)

Berenice interprets Frankie's own experience for her and we

see that Frankie feels obligated to channel her experiences

through Berenice in order to give them validity. Indeed,

Frankie struggles against this desire throughout the novel,

coming back time and again to reify her experiences in

dialogue with Berenice. "Tell me exactly what did they look

like?" (27), Frankie says once Berenice has interpreted the

visit for her.

Yet if Frankie requires Berenice's interpretation of

such events as they discuss her plans to become "a member of

the wedding" and leave with her brother when he marries, she

remains somewhat mystified by the black identity she

associates with Berenice. When Berenice's son Honey and her

suitor T.T. interrupt the discussion and enter the kitchen,

Frankie is perplexed by Honey's dialect which glides so

easily between white and black. "That sure is a cute suit

you got on, Honey," Frankie says to Honey. "Where'd you get

it?" But his response leave her alienated from him: "Honey

could talk like a white school-teacher; his lavender lips

could move as quick and light as butterflies. But he only

answered with a colored word, a dark sound from the throat

that can mean anything. 'Ahhnnh,' he said" (36). Frankie

is attracted by Honey's contradictions, for he is, like

herself and like Berenice, caught between white and black

worlds. Similarly, the communion Frankie feels with

Berenice and the two men is strong: when the three patiently

wait for Frankie to leave so that they can drink whiskey,

"She stood in the door and looked at them. She did not want

to go away." And yet once Frankie leaves, she is unwilling

or unable to trust Berenice not to betray her plan to join

the wedding party: "She closed the door, but behind her she

could hear their voices. With her head against the kitchen

door she could hear the murmuring dark sounds that rose and

fell in a gentle way. Ayee--ayee" (36). McCullers

emphasizes Frankie's curiosity with black dialect and black

culture while further establishing the maternal bond between

Frankie and Berenice. The words of the three--"murmuring

dark sounds"-- nurture rather than threaten Frankie as she

listens from behind the door. And yet such nurturing is of

course limited: she hears the sounds in such a way only

because she is eavesdropping. When Honey asks Berenice what

she and Frankie had been discussing, to Frankie's surprise,

Berenice does not betray her confidence: "Just foolishness,"

she says.

Frankie's awareness of Berenice's "otherness"

throughout the novel draws her to the older woman: she

thinks that "nobody human" (3) would ever know why Berenice

chooses to have a blue glass eye, and yet it is just this

lack of unity with which Frankie can identify, being herself

"a member of nothing in the world" and "an unjoined person"

(1). And it is ultimately Berenice's blackness with which

Frankie can empathize, though she will reject that blackness

in attempting to join herself with the white world she comes

to envy. Attempting later in the novel to interpret

Frankie's distress, Berenice points to the similarities

between them:

"We all of us somehow caught. We born this way or that
way and we don't know why. But we caught anyhow. I
born Berenice. You born Frankie. John Henry born John
Henry. And maybe we wants to widen and bust free. But
no matter what we do we still caught. Me is me and you
is you and he is he. We each one of us somehow caught
all by ourself. Is that what you were trying to say?"
"I don't know," F. Jasmine said. "But I don't
want to be caught."
"Me neither," said Berenice. "Don't none of us.
I'm caught worse than you is."
F. Jasmine understood why she had said this, and
it was John Henry who asked in his child voice: "Why?"
"Because I am black," said Berenice. "Because I
am colored. Everybody is caught one way or another.
But they done drawn completely extra bounds around all
colored people. They done squeezed us off in one
corner by ourselves. So we caught that firstway I was
telling you about. And we caught as colored people
also. Sometimes a boy like Honey feel like he just
can't breathe no more. He feel like he got to break
something or break himself. Sometimes it just about
more than we can stand."
"I know it," F. Jasmine said. "I wish Honey could
do something."
"He just feels desperate like."
"Yes," F. Jasmine said. "Sometimes I feel like I
want to break something, too. I feel like I wish I
could just tear down the whole town." (113-114)

In Berenice's assertion that "They done drawn completely

extra bounds around all colored people," McCullers asserts

her own posture in the narrative, allowing Berenice a voice

free of irony juxtaposed with Frankie's juvenile longings.

In her desire "to break something, too," Frankie shares in

Berenice's sense of being cast out, despite Berenice's

attempts to isolate the black experience as unique.

Berenice's assertion that "they done squeezed us off in one

corner" only draws Frankie closer, for she herself has a

"squeezed heart" (4). Acting as does many a white liberal

in such a position, Frankie appropriates Berenice's black

identity in attempting to delineate her own life. As Huck

Finn joins his cause with Jim's when they leave Jackson's

Island ("Git up and hump yourself, Jim. They're after

us!"), Frankie here attempts to explain her alienation from

white society through Berenice's explanation of racial

oppression. Berenice, however, rejects any such yoking:

though willing to act as a maternal figure to both Frankie

and John Henry, she will not allow either of them free rein

over her own experience. McCullers here maintains

Berenice's autonomous stance even as Frankie attempts to

deprive her of it.

In a subsequent passage, Berenice insists upon

Frankie's inability to "pass" as black: she ironically

proposes a reversal of racial identity as Frankie attempts

to understand why she cannot change her name as she sees

fit. "Why is it against the law to change your name?"

Frankie asks." Berenice's responds by mocking Frankie's

name changes: "Suppose I would suddenly up and call myself


Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. And you would begin naming yourself

Joe Louis. And John Henry would try to pass off as Henry

Ford. Now what kind of confusion do you think that would

cause?" (107). Berenice's levity here is hardly innocent:

the shared racial identity between herself and Frankie which

Frankie proposes threatens her and she must insist that no

such exchange is possible. She claims her suffering as her

own. Just such an exchange will finally lead Frankie to

break from Berenice, rejecting the black world which

Berenice embodies and casting herself off into a white

identity and a white world. Berenice's association of John

Henry with Henry Ford is subtle criticism as well:

throughout the novel, John Henry acts as an agent

provocateur for white identity, a child much closer to

Frankie's father in character than to Berenice.

Despite Berenice's various attempts to distance

Frankie's experience from her own, Frankie's association of

her alienation with that of Berenice, and by extension with

the black community in the town, persists throughout the

novel. Later in the novel, Frankie, left behind by

Berenice, wanders out to John Henry's house, where she tries

to communicate with her cousin, to no avail. With dusk

falling, she stands apart from John Henry, watching him when

a blues horn--"the sad horn of some colored boy" (41) begins

to play from "somewhere in town." Despite the fact that she

does not know the player, Frankie immediately feels a

kinship with him: "Frankie stood stiff, her head bent and

her eyes closed, listening. There was something about the

tune that brought back to her all of the spring: flowers,

the eyes of strangers, rain." Frankie's experience of

listening to the horn player parallels her experience with

Berenice. The horn player's music reflects the tangle of

her consciousness at this point in the novel and draws her

into herself even as she strains to hear. Just as Frankie

feels that Berenice shares her sense of fragmentation, she

believes the horn player speaks to her in a language that

she cannot establish with her cousin. The expression that

the "colored boy" gives to his blues brings Frankie to

reminisce over the spring, before she felt cast out of

childhood, and brings her back to her present--"that long

dark season of trouble." And yet, like Berenice, the horn

player stops short of offering anything beyond mere

association: "Just at the time when the tune should be laid,

the music finished, the horn stopped playing." Frankie is

left "lost," awaiting guidance that will not come. Finally,

Frankie is driven not yet to find her own direction but

instead to mimic the black blues that she has heard: in her

own blues improvisation, she "began to talk aloud" (42), but

pays no attention to her own words.

Bitterly complaining that Berenice refuses to believe

that she is leaving town for good--"sometimes I honestly

think she is the biggest fool that ever drew breath" (42)--

Frankie suddenly finds direction for herself after listening

to the horn player:

"For it was just at that moment that Frankie
understood. She knew who she was and how she was going
into the world. Her squeezed heart suddenly opened and
divided. Her heart divided like two wings. And when
she spoke her voice was sure.
"I know where I'm going," she said. (42)

And yet, like Huck Finn so often does, Frankie's resolution

fails to yield any definitive action. Because she has

decided to set her sights for a white identity and to escape

Berenice, her heart is no longer "squeezed" as it had been

when her closest association was with Berenice. Having here

decided to become "a member of the wedding," she momentarily

retreats into childhood and into her dependence upon


At dinner soon after Frankie decides to join the

wedding party, she questions Berenice about name of her

favorite food, hopping-John, apparently reluctant to call it

by the name given to it by black southerners now that she

plans to join the white world that the wedding offers her:

"Tell me. Is it just us who call this hopping-
john? Or is it known by that name through all the
country. It seems a strange name somehow."
"Well, I have heard it called various things,"
said Berenice.
"Well, I have heard it called peas and rice. Or
rice and peas and pot-liquor. Or hopping John. You
can vary and take your pick."
"But I'm not talking about this town," F. Jasmine
said. "I mean in other places. I mean through all the
world. I wonder what the French call it."
"Oh," said Berenice. "Well, you ask me a question
I cannot answer." (80-81)

Berenice, who knows a thing or two about signifiers,

dismisses the importance of such transformations of

language, in much the same way that she has tried to

dissuade Frankie from changing her name to F. Jasmine. As

Jim dismisses the reverence due the king and the duke--"dey

can't get no situation" (245)--Berenice dismisses Frankie's

longing for a more striking name for hopping-john. Frankie,

of course, yearns for a name that is less southern (read:

black?). "I wonder what the French call it," she wonders of

the food that Berenice cooks for her, which, by her own

admission, is her preferred dish: "Now hopping-john was F.

Jasmine's very favorite food. She had always warned them to

wave a plate of rice and peas before her nose when she was

in her coffin, to make certain there was no mistake..."

(70). In slighting the term "hopping-john," Frankie

symbolically rejects the black/southern experience of which

Berenice is a constant reminder. "I know where I'm going,"

Frankie realizes just before the passage, and her chosen

destination is the cultivated world which she associates

with white identity.

Frankie's distress at her present circumstances

increases when Berenice tells her that a change of names is

just as illogical as would be a change of race. Circling

the kitchen table with a knife in her hand, Frankie is

further distracted at her inability to tell Berenice of her

plans to go dancing with a soldier from the Blue Moon.

Berenice finally stops her:

"Set here in my lap," said Berenice. "And rest a
F. Jasmine put the knife on the table and settled
down on Berenice's lap. She leaned back and put her
face against Berenice's neck; her face was sweaty and
Berenice's neck was sweaty also, and they both smelled
salty and sour and sharp. Her right leg was flung
across Berenice's knee, and it was trembling--but when
she steadied her toes on the floor, it did not tremble
any more....
F. Jasmine rolled her head and rested her face
against Berenice's shoulder. She could feel Berenice's
soft big ninnas against her back, and her soft wide
stomach, her warm solid legs. She had been breathing
very fast, but after a minute her breath had slowed
down so that she breathed in time with Berenice; the
two of them were close together as one body, and
Berenice's stiffened hands were clasped around F.
Jasmine's chest. (112-113)

The passage reveals the two embraced "as one body," a

metaphoric mothering in which Frankie, if only momentarily,

accepts Berenice as mother, something Frankie has been

reluctant to do throughout the novel.

At the conclusion of the novel, however, once she has

been to the wedding and found that she will not be accepted

as a member, Frankie lashes out at Berenice who sits next to

her on the long bus ride back to her childhood world: "She

was sitting next to Berenice, back with the colored people,

and when she thought of it she used the word she had never

used before, nigger--for now she hated everyone and wanted

only to spite and shame" (135). In recognizing the limits

of her own identity, Frankie recalls the stereotypes of her

southern culture in order to break her association with

Berenice which she feels is ultimately responsible for her

own failings.

If Frankie's rejection of Berenice here is purely

symbolic, she finally achieves a break from Berenice of more

substance as Frankie and her father prepare to move from

their house, leaving Berenice behind. For her part,

Berenice "had given quit notice and said that she might as

well marry T.T." (149), and the Addams's decision to move to

"the new suburb of town" marks the beginning of Frankie's

final break with Berenice. The two are in the kitchen

together for a final time--and "the first time in a long

while"--when Frankie recognizes the transformation of their

world and of their relationship:

It was not the same kitchen of the summer that now
seemed so long ago. The pencil pictures had
disappeared beneath a coat of calcimine, and new
linoleum covered the splintery floor. Even the table
had been moved, pushed back against the wall, since now
there was nobody to take meals with Berenice. (149)

The alteration of the kitchen implies a rejection of the

black world which Frankie associates with her childhood:

John Henry's manic pencil drawings are painted over in a

"coat of calcimine" just as Frankie vehemently cuts her own

association with the black world that those drawings


McCullers further emphasizes the division between

Frankie and Berenice--and Frankie's symbolic rejection of

Berenice--as Frankie makes sandwiches for Mary Littlejohn, a

new friend who is coming to see her: "Frances glanced at

Berenice, who was sitting idle in a chair, wearing an old

raveled sweater, her limp arms hanging at her sides" (150).

Berenice has served her purpose for Frankie, who at the

conclusion of the narrative has broken with the black world

to which she clung throughout the novel. Berenice's arms

hang limp at her sides, her authority in the kitchen having

been usurped and thus her relationship with Frankie

breached. As is apparent in Huck Finn, the relationship can

only be maintained when forces outside of it exert little

pressure upon the white character: Huck is able to maintain

his ability to see Jim as an individual only until they

leave the river and Huck becomes reunited with Tom Sawyer.

Here, in like manner, Frankie abandons Berenice upon finding

her own Tom Sawyer in Mary LittleJohn.

Berenice is unlike Twain's Jim in that McCullers does

not instill in her the patience of Job. While Jim reacts

with only mild displeasure as he watches Huck and Tom

fritter away the possibility of an easy escape, Berenice

reacts with the vitriol of a spurned lover when Frankie

announces that she and Mary LittleJohn will "travel around

the world together" after she moves:

"Mary Littlejohn," said Berenice, in a tinged
voice. "Mary Littlejohn."
Berenice could not appreciate Michelangelo or
poetry, let alone Mary Littlejohn. There had at first
been words between them on the subject. Berenice had
spoken of Mary as being lumpy and marshmallow-white and
Frances had defended fiercely. . .
"There's no use our discussing a certain party.
You could not possibly understand her. It's just not
in you." She had said that once before to Berenice,


and from the sudden faded stillness in her eye she knew
that the words had hurt. (150-151)

Frankie for the first time in the novel prepares her own

food, and not coincidentally the meal is for her and Mary

Littlejohn (in whom Frankie has found the new name for

hopping-john that she sought earlier), who has supplanted

Berenice in Frankie's life.

Berenice's conspicuous dislike for Mary Littlejohn

further underscores her remove from Frankie at the end of

the novel. In particular, it is Mary Littlejohn's whiteness

that offends: Frankie "had defended fiercely" against

Berenice's assertion that Mary was "lumpy and marshmallow

white." Frankie's assertion that Berenice "could not

possibly understand" Mary Littlejohn ironically symbolizes

Frankie's growth in the course of the novel, a growth

finally possible only after she forsakes her relationship

with Berenice.

The final lines of the novel reveal the extent to which

Frankie's identity remains fragmented, yet she has

redirected her search for wholeness to the white world

exclusive of Berenice: "'I am simply mad about--' but the

sentence was left unfinished for the hush was shattered

when, with an instant shock of happiness, she heard the

ringing of the bell" (153). Mary Littlejohn's arrival

signals the conclusion of Frankie's relationship with

Berenice: if Frankie's world remains fragmented, she no

longer associates that fragmentation with Berenice. Rather,

at the conclusion of the novel she has rejected her union

with Berenice in favor of a possible wholeness in her

relationship with Mary Littlejohn.


Like Member of the Wedding, Harper Lee's To Kill a

Mockingbird (1960) actively confronts the oppression of

blacks in the modern South, and in doing so it employs many

of the conventions of earlier novels like Huckleberry Finn

and Intruder in the Dust. Atticus Finch's defense of Tom

Robinson, a local black man wrongly accused of raping a

white woman, directly parallels Atticus's children's growing

understanding of their mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. The

didactic imperatives of the novel emerge from these parallel

narrative structures: Lee ties Scout's curiosity over Arthur

Radley (whom Scout calls "Boo") with Atticus's legal defense

of Robinson. Scout's moral development in the course of the

novel comes not directly from the black persons whom she

encounters, as in Huckleberry Finn, but rather from her own

virtuous father, whom Lee depicts as a modern and

enlightened planter of much intelligence and compassion, a

great white father of the old order, short the racism.

Propping up Tom Robinson for Atticus to save, Lee portrays

Robinson as the maligned victim, a hand-me-down from

Robinson's namesake, Uncle Tom.