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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 19 Mar 2004 20:23:34 -0500
text/plain (93 lines)
Hal Bush wrote in response to the opening paragraph of "among the Indians" where
Mark uses the term "nigger Jim":
>> I do not think that this quote is calling Jim "Nigger Jim" -- it sounds to
>>me like he is just noting the race of Jim.  My sense is that Twain never
>>does refer to Jim as "Nigger Jim," in the exact sense of a proper name or
>>proper noun.  Please note that Twain does not write ""Me and Tom Sawyer
>>and Nigger Jim" -- isn't the "the" crucial to this??  <<

    Hey, Hal.  Another Hal here.  I'm a newbie to the list, a sideliner, a
lurker for awhile, and I thought I might chime in.  Of course Mark's use of this
term gets him in trouble, and make people want to burn his books, or ban them.
I've always thought that people that took a few of Twain's words, and concluded
that Mark was racist, were people who probably never read much else of his
    Anybody that knows Clemens at all, knows he's not racist.  Mark didn't
discriminate, he condemn the whole human race, of every color; and was a mugwump
in more than one sense of the word.  I appreciate that you are sticking up for
him, to dispel any doubt, or question, of Twain's racism.
    The word Nigger is a charged word, that's for sure, and I advise not using
it where one is not known very well, and not comfortable with the company
present.  Not unless you want to get your ass kicked, or something.
    I must point out that the word can be used in many ways, some bad and some
good.  This may sound strange to people who may repel at the word, and thus
don't give it much thought.  I know the hateful side of the word because I was
raised by an extreme racist father.  More than once, while our family was out at
a restaurant, if a black person walked in, my father would go red in the face,
and then rise up, find whoever he thought was the owner or manager of the
restaurant, and say loud enough for all to hear:  "I'm not eating no where with
no nigger", and trail all of us out the door, bill unpaid.
    But then we have the case of the teenagers and young adults in my
neighborhood, whites and blacks alike, where the word is used as a term of
endearment.  So when they meet each other, it's not unusual that they greet with
the custom hand shake gyrations and hug, while asking each other:  "How's mh
niggah?"  And of course, we've all seen black comedians who use the term in
their comedy routines.
    I use the term with black friends sometimes (I'm white), when it comes up,
but they know I'm not racist, and they know I'm not using the word in a hateful
way.  Actually, I find that if we can find mixed company where we can all use
the term, without anyone taking offense, then we could say we've found a truly
non-racist group of people; and should kiss the ground, it is holy.  I wish that
day to come, when I society were just so.  I wish the day would come when a
black man and white man can run for office of President, and no one, I mean no
one, judges either man by the color of their skin.  We've got a long way to go.
Damn the human race if we don't get there.
    And Clemens pitched into this cause, when and while he could, probably more
than anyone; truth be told.  Clemens held racism up for the whole world to see,
in its stark reality.  There's not a trace of racism between Tom and Nigger Jim,
even if Tom referred to Jim as nigger.  The term was just a term, and any nigger
Jim, in Twains' day, probably heard the term tens of thousands of times.  What
makes the difference in whether the word is racist or not, is in the heart.  A
non-racist person can use the term, and it's not racist.  But a racist person
can use the term and it is.  In fact, a non-racist person can use the word as a
term of camaraderie.  And isn't that what we're after?  Camaraderie of one race,
the human race?
    I know all this rings with idealism, but only because of our times.  I see
no reason that the human race can't finish what Twain got started by
spotlighting racism to the whole world, right in their face, for all to see.
Seeing it was the first step.  May we all open our eyes and reach the last step,
and be done with it.


> On 3/19/04 1:18 PM, "Fred Kaplan" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > The opening paragraph of "Huck Finn and Tom =
> > Sawyer among the Indians" includes the sentence, "Me and Tom Sawyer and =
> > the nigger Jim, that used to belong to old Miss Watson, was away down in =
> > Arkansas at Tom's aunt Sally's and uncle Silas's."
> I do not think that this quote is calling Jim "Nigger Jim" -- it sounds to
> me like he is just noting the race of Jim.  My sense is that Twain never
> does refer to Jim as "Nigger Jim," in the exact sense of a proper name or
> proper noun.  Please note that Twain does not write ""Me and Tom Sawyer
> and Nigger Jim" -- isn't the "the" crucial to this??
> Ps-- I had thought that the wide currency of the naming of Jim as "Nigger
> Jim" was due to Hemingway, rather than his "first biographer" as Kaplan
> states -- but perhaps I am mistaken??
> Harold K. Bush, Ph.D
> Associate Professor
> Dept. of English, Saint Louis University
> 314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)
> Quote of the moment:
> "How does it feel
> To be on your own?"
> --Bob Dylan