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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Kim M Long <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 10 Dec 1998 11:16:44 -0500
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (121 lines)

Chadwick-Joshua, Jocelyn. _The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in _Huckleberry
Finn__.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998.  Pp. 183. Paper,
5-1/2 " x 8-1/2". $17.00.  ISBN 1-57806-601-3. (Distributed in Canada by
Scholarly Book Services, Toronto.)

This book and many others are available at discounted prices from the
TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
that benefit the Mark Twain Project.  Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:

    Kim Martin Long <[log in to unmask]>
    Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Copyright 1998 Mark Twain Forum.  This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Do we really need another book about the _Huck Finn_ controversy? Didn't
Tom Quirk in _Getting a Grip on Huck Finn_, Jonathan Arac in _Huck Finn:
Idol or Target_, and Joe Fulton in _Mark Twain's Ethical Realism: The
Aesthetics of Race, Class, and Gender_ give us all the dialogue we need
about whether or not to canonize and to teach Twain's masterpiece?
Although these three works (and many others) have come out in the last few
years, and although they contribute significantly to Twain scholarship,
they do not do what Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua's does: carefully examine
Twain's rhetoric in order to show Jim as an important, vital character.

Chadwick-Joshua--as a Southerner, an African-American descendant of
slaves, a rhetorician, and Twain scholar--makes a compelling and
convincing argument for keeping Twain's book on the top shelf of American
literature.  She eloquently answers the critics who would ban the book by
demonstrating Twain's method, if not his madness, of using Huck's
vernacular language to convey respect, humanity, and dignity. Rather than
argue that the use of the word _nigger_ brings the book down to a level of
base racism, Chadwick-Joshua expertly shows how the use of the word (and
other racist discourse) contributes to Twain's satire of the racist
19th-century South.  What many of us who value the book know and feel,
Chadwick-Joshua makes us see and understand.

The book contains only four chapters and an introduction; however,
Chadwick-Joshua covers lots of ground.  The introduction to the book
presents her thesis: "_Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ compels us to
confront what I call the Jim dilemma': the need to distinguish a richly
positive and generous humanity from the confusing crosscurrents of
prejudice that obscure it.  The challenge to face these sensitive issues
offers us all a great opportunity to realize our highest potential as a
thoughtfully integrated culture" (xiv).  Chadwick-Joshua says that her
book seeks to confront directly _Huck Finn_'s critics and detractors; she
claims that the book's opponents have misinterpreted Jim.  She seeks to
examine him closely in order to reveal his heroic nature, his
resourcefulness, and his humanity, the "true visionary center of the
novel" (xx).  As Chadwick-Joshua claims, until "we embrace Jim and all
that he represents, . . . we will forever pale as a people, will be
historically colorless" (xxii).

The first titled chapter of the book, "Reading Race: A Dilemma," presents
Twain as a rebel writer, not afraid to embrace the darkness of the
American past (alluding to Toni Morrison), one who forces readers to
think.  Chadwick-Joshua surveys older and more recent criticism of _Huck
Finn_: here you'll find Brooks, Trilling, Marx, et al., as well as Kaplan,
Fishkin, and Smiley.  But, as Chadwick-Joshua claims, the "time has long
since been propitious to reexamine the text of this work in light of
difference.  The difference cited here is a rhetorical one. . ." (8).
She acknowledges that many modern readers, especially African-American
readers, have trouble seeing Jim in the novel as anything but a grotesque
caricature; she explains that modern audiences (especially high school and
college audiences) may need adequate preparation and guidance through this
work in order to understand Twain's carefully constructed satire, "which
distorts values" (9).

As Chadwick-Joshua suggests, because "the wound [of slavery] is yet open
or because of unconscious denial, a significant number of
African-Americans today do not wish to confront and explore the issues and
language Twain depicts" (26).  She challenges and even demands that
African-American audiences be willing to explore what the novel has to say
to them, not to shrink from it or to keep it from their children. This
chapter seeks to address the controversy directly in order to open minds
for the careful explication of the book within the rhetorical context that

In Chapter Two, "You Can't Learn a Nigger to Argue': Verbal Battles,"
Chadwick-Joshua argues that Jim, when viewed "in the context of classical
rhetoric, proves to be an important and profound agent of social change"
(29).  She asserts that _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ is a classic
Menippean satire that seeks to expose the "evil and absurdity of the
slavery system, class hierarchy, and religious and filial hypocrisy" (42,
citing Frye 309).  Chadwick-Joshua examines four logomachies, or verbal
battles, that occur in the novel (the conversation between Huck and Jim
about King Solomon, for example), showing through rhetorical analysis that
Jim "wins" with his superior logic.  This examination and (re)formation of
Jim as a strong, vital force in the novel supports the book's argument
that _Huck Finn_ is not only worth keeping in the canon, but is a powerful
book for African-American empowerment.

I won't go through all of Chadwick-Joshua's strategies in my review of
this book; however, the other two chapters ("In the Dark, Southern
Fashion: Encounters with Society" and "Whah is de Glory?': The
(Un)Reconstructed South") continue the rhetorical analysis of Twain's
(Huck's) discourse related to Jim and to racism.  Sample these sentences:
"Through powerfully provocative maneuvers, Twain moves us to consider the
ways Jim is constantly recruiting Huck's support and solidifying his
subsequent transformation, thereby sustaining and expanding Jim's only
chance for freedom" (66); "Rather than giving us one more romanticized
fiction about mistreated slaves and their indomitable but silent spirit,
Twain dodges logic by letting his characters continue in the wrong
direction, flinging us into the paradoxes of the mythic South" (70); and
"Contrary to the criticism that Jim disappears, yet again, [in the
Grangerford section] because Twain did not know what to do with him, Jim's
apprarent invisibility and loss of voice are more productive and powerful
than had he risked a meaningless capture and certain exposure" (87).

Chadwick-Joshua ends her book with the idea that "Twain never meant for
this novel to be painless" (134), and throughout _The Jim Dilemma_, she
demonstrates the art and the science of Mark Twain's masterpiece. She
addresses the race question head-on, without emotionalizing or
sensationalizing. Her credibility and her sensitivity are evident on every
page.  Yes, we do need another book about _Huck Finn_.