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Michael MacBride <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 15 Sep 2006 15:14:00 -0500
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While I don't generally take much issue with the language in Twain, for many
of the reasons people have already mentioned, all the talk of the phrase
"nigger jim" really made me wonder where it originated?

The only place I can think of in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is in
Huck's note to Miss Watson.  "Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down

So, if it's not in Twain's work... where did it come from?  People have
already mentioned Hemingway's famous quotation in his 1935 work.  I dug
through the articles I've read and taken notes on, and only found a handful
that have this mention.  And, none earlier than Hemingway.  Could
Hemingway's missreading of Huck Finn lead to this phrase being attributed to
Twain?  Or, maybe it comes from earlier drafts of the story?

*This attempts to pass blame to Albert Bigelow Paine:*
 Dick Gregory gives the impression that, in HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Clemens
referred to the slave Jim as "Nigger Jim."  *Clemens did not use the word as
a part of Jim's proper name. This misconception was popularized by Clemens's
biographer Albert Bigelow Paine who routinely referred to Jim as "Nigger
Source: (this one attempts to
clear it up)

*But, here are the ones I have handy:*
 "His left hand sought the old familiar pantaloons pocket and stayed there,
while he leaned against the reading desk with his other arm on it, and
proceeded in his conversational, slow, nasal drawl. It was in the
Mississippi Valley. Huck Finn, a white boy, and Nigger Jim ran away from the
plantation and camped out, and they got to talking about kings one evening.

AND (from the same source)

"Nigger Jim had never thought of that before, and he proceeded to argue that
Solomon could not have been a wise man, because he would have had to build
himself a room of boiler iron and shut himself in occasionally, where he
could get a little rest."
Source: (Claims to
be from The New York Sun dated: Nov 19, 1884)

Bellamy, Gladys Carmen.  Mark Twain as a Literary Artist.  Norman, OK.:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.
"The three figures, Tom, Huck, and Jim, represent the three gradations of
thought and three levels of civilization.  Tom, pretending so intensely that
it becomes so, says we can't do it except as in the books.  Is this what
civilization really is—merely a pretense according to a set pattern?  Tom
is on the highest level, in the sense of being most civilized; but he
represents a mawkish, romantic, artificial civilization.  Compared with him,
Nigger Jim and Huck are primitives; and the closer Mark Twain gets to
primitivism, the better his writing becomes." (339).

Shockley, Martin Staples.  "The Structure of Huckleberry Finn."  Ed. David
B. Kesterson.  Critics on Mark Twain.  Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami
Press, 1973: 70-81. Also quotes Bellamy: "Gladys Bellamy writes: "In spite
of its episodic nature, the book falls naturally into three thematic units.
In the first sixteen chapters the theme has to do with what is of and from
St. Petersburg: Huck, Tom, Nigger Jim, and pap.  The second thematic unit
includes the most strongly satiric, the most powerful part of the book,
bringing Huck and Jim into contact with the outside world… The third
thematic unit is short, a sort of coda to the rest, covering the period at
the Phelps farm in which Tom reenters the story.  This section repeats the
romanticized motif of the first Part and thus brings the book around
full-circle, before we close."  Professor Bellamy then proceeds, following
Professor Floyd Stovall, to interpret Huckleberry Finn as "a satire on
institutionalism." (71).
*And then, here are a few I found with a quick google search:*
"Russell Baker wrote in the New York Times in 1982 -- "are drunkards,
murderers, bullies, swindlers, lynchers, thieves, liars, frauds, child
abusers, numskulls, hypocrites, windbags and traders in human flesh. All are
white. The one man of honor in this phantasmagoria is 'Nigger Jim,' as Twain
called him to emphasize the irony of a society in which the only true
gentleman was held beneath contempt."

"Nancy Rawles' new novel *My Jim* is the story of Sadie Watson, the wife of
"Nigger Jim," as he was referred to in the Mark Twain classic *Huckleberry
Finn*. Jim was the escaped slave who took the journey down the Mississippi
(and into American literary history) with runaway Huck."
and I love NPR!)

Maybe that helps... or maybe it doesn't.

Minnesota State University, Mankato