Monday, February 1, 2016

Interracial Relationships According to Smiley, Morrison, King, and Kolvenbach

             No matter what lens you use to examine The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is impossible to ignore Huck and Jim’s bond and their relationship with the white Christian world beyond their raft. There are a myriad of interpretations of the relationship between Huck and Jim. Smiley accuses Twain of creating Jim “as no more than Huck’s sidekick” (357). Morrison sees the relationship between Huck and Jim as a pseudo-father/son relationship. Both authors acknowledge that race plays a big role in the two’s friendship. The incorporation of King and Kolvenbach's texts provide an interesting addition to the conversation of race surrounding the novel.
Smiley seems to believe that under Twain’s authorship, Jim’s race resigns him to being Huck’s bumbling friend, and contrasts this with the structure of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although Huck comes to the realization that Jim is a human being with emotions and aspirations, Smiley argues that Huck fails to act in the interest of Jim’s humanity. White sympathy/empathy is not enough for Smiley, one must actively strive to attain and protect blacks’ civil rights. A stumbling block to this is whites’ preoccupation with empathizing with blacks and thinking that is sufficient. Smiley states that how whites “feel means very little to black Americans, who understand racism as a way of structuring American culture, American politics, and the American economy” (357). According to Smiley, this missed connection is Huck’s problem as well, as he abandons Jim at the end to strike out for “the territory,” thus avoiding having to resolve the race issue between himself and Jim.
Morrison imagines Jim and Huck in much more tender roles. He describes Jim as being very vocal with his affection, constantly reinforcing Huck and caring for him. Huck seems to need this help, as he is very daunted by the scariness of life and has a near-constant preoccupation with death. Thus Jim replaces Pap as Huck’s father figure. However, Huck is unable to vocalize his love and instead plays tricks on Jim or otherwise deflects attention from potentially emotional situations. This trend is broken when Huck decides to free Jim, thus endangering his (white Christian) soul. Morrison calls this the “ultimate act of love,” something that Smiley would probably refute. While in Smiley’s eyes Huck simply comes to understand Jim’s emotions as human and fails to advocate for his friend’s humanity, Morrison sees Huck’s decision to free Jim as the only time he could overcome his speechlessness and declare his love for Jim, arguably acting in the interest of Jim’s humanity.
King, like Smiley, criticizes the lack of action being taken to defend and further blacks’ humanity. He is disappointed in the white community’s response to the injustice being suffered by black men and women in Birmingham. King declares, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and berates the white clergymen (who reprimanded him for protesting) for not taking action and protecting the humanity of their black brothers. He also comments that the white clergymen have influence over the white power structures in Birmingham that could greatly aid the protestors, and instead they choose to only comment about the issues from afar and criticize the protest for being “untimely.” This comment brings up a very important point. Again and again King returns to this word, arguing that there is no “good” time to fight oppression. He proves that change can and should not be bound by time, and that waiting is no longer an option.

Kolvenbach attempts to provide an answer to the disappointment and injustice felt by the marginalized people of the world. This answer is the Jesuit goal of “promotion of justice,” or “a well-planned strategy to make the world just” (27). Like King, Kolvenbach realizes that “human society is able to solve problems such as […] developing more just conditions of life, but remains stubbornly unable to accomplish this” (32). He references Saint Ignatius’s belief that love must be expressed not only in words but in deeds, an interesting tie-in to Smiley and Morrison’s arguments. While Morrison believes Huck expresses his love for Jim in deeds but not words, Smiley argues that Huck’s deeds are not enough. The way to make these deeds of love sufficient, Kolvenbach believes, is to give young people “close involvement with the poor and the marginal now, in order to learn about reality and become adults of solidarity in the future” (35). This is a faculty that Huck did not have in his slavery-entrenched world. We as promoters of justice in the modern world can make the conscious decision to care, fortified and inspired by those who have come before us, in order to create a world where injustice is a distant memory.

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