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Gregg Camfield <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 5 Sep 2005 22:54:50 -0700
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I have to agree with Terrell on this one.  The book is a novel, and
Twain uses poetic license (even though he had Huck comment on the
absurdity of Jim running South to get free).  Yes, Twain would have
known that Ohio was a good destination for escaping slaves, and there
were cases of slaves escaping by steamboat up the Ohio River. But to do
so, a slave would have needed money, a protector, and--usually--savvy
about the steamboat trade.  Jim finds in Huck the protector, but the
other elements are missing, and Huck is not a particularly good
protector; not a seasoned conductor on the underground railroad, at any

And yes, Illinois was not friendly ground for fugitive slaves.  But Iowa
was just a hop-skip and a jump from "St. Peterburg," and it was one of
the most energetically anti-slavery states in the Union--as "Twain"
would have known from his own brief time living there with his brother.
How much easier, if Jim wished to pay for boat passage in Huck's
company, to convince Huck to go north on the Mississippi to Iowa.  It's
as plausible as Jim's plan of catching a boat to run up the Ohio.
(Isn't it an amusing game to re-plot the life of a fictional being?)

So a more logical plot could have been fashioned if it were really Jim's
story.  But the book is, after all, _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_.
Twain wanted Huck to go South.  Do you think a man who, as he says in
his autobiography, would "move a state if the exigencies of literature
required it" (Chapter XIII) would scruple at a little thing like having
Jim go South to the Ohio in order to catch a Steamboat northeast?  All
it would take is marginal plausibility and brass.  Twain had the brass.