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Sharon McCoy <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 20 Mar 2004 18:18:14 -0500
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I apologize for jumping in a little late here, but I was out of town.  This has been a stimulating discussion.

<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>Kevin and Shelley stated that Twain never (an open-ended anyplace) used the
>phrase that I quoted. I wonder if their responses would have been different if
> I had used the full phrase "the nigger Jim" rather than "nigger Jim." In
>neither instance is there a capital "N."

My two cents--
I'm sure that they would have responded differently.  I know I would have, and it is apparent that many of the members of the forum would, too.  The distinction Fred makes about the capitalization is important, but as others have argued eloquently here, without the definite article, whether the "N" is actually capitalized or not becomes moot.  Without "the," capitalization is heard even if it is not seen.

Yet it also seems to me important to make a distinction between Twain's references to his character and Huck's to his friend.  Twain's manipulation of Huck's thoughts regarding Jim and the word "nigger" in the crisis of conscience scene is particularly revelatory of the importance Twain himself placed on this issue.  Huck moves from thinking about Jim and his plight to thinking about how people will regard the boy if word gets around that he helped the slave escape.  The social condemnation Huck fears shifts his perspective of Jim.  Jim becomes "a nigger", "a poor old woman's nigger" and finally, "that nigger" in the boy's thoughts, and he writes to Miss Watson about "your runaway nigger Jim" (ch. 31). But Huck's use of Jim's name in that note evokes contradictory memories of Jim on the raft, and the boy decides to "go to hell"--not for a "nigger," but for a friend.  Twain here distinctly separates "Jim" and "nigger" in Huck's thoughts.  Huck's failure is that he cannot long!
  maintain the separation.

Huck does refer to Jim repeatedly as "my nigger" when he is confronting the Duke about betraying the slave, but he does not use Jim's name in these passages (ch. 31).

I think that the most damning use of the phrase actually appears in chapter 1 of "Tom Sawyer, Detective," where Huck refers to Jim as "our old nigger Jim," effectively declaring an alliance with Tom and slave-owning whites.  Jim is conspicuously absent from the novella itself.

Even here, though, I think that it is clear that the word's use is a description, not a reference, as Jim Zwick defined the distinction.

Sharon McCoy
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