Current events spur an author’s imagination and can be the basis for their novels. In The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Jubilee by Margaret Walker, the ideologies in the Reconstruction Era are the foundations of their novels. Hence, major social and racial issues derived in the aftermath of the American Civil War immeasurably shaped the purpose of Mark Twain’s and Margaret Walker’s writing.
In Jubilee, the difficulties that African Americans faced drove the novel’s themes. It was 1865; and the North had won a vicious war against its southern brothers. Following the liberation of blacks, “the role of the emancipated slaves in Southern society had to be defined” (Reconstruction 1). At the start of the reconstruction period, a series of laws set by southern states known as the black codes restricted the rights and privileges afforded to blacks. Margaret Walker, whose family was affected by these laws, implemented the various injustices her people experienced into her novel. For example, Randall Ware remarks how “the white man is fighting education, land, and ballot for the Negroes” (Walker 472). In the novel, Vyry sends Jim to school specifically for African Americans.
By becoming educated, he will be able to apply himself in society and voice his opinions. Randall Ware is kicked off his land and forced to sell for a low price simply because the whites want it. When he is elected into the Georgia State House, the infuriated white community removes him forcibly from the office despite fairly winning the election. The author clearly draws from the racial segregation African Americans were plagued with and presents their problems through the novel’s characters. By vividly giving her readers an African American’s perception of society, Walker hopes to instill consciousness about the equality issues a divided America. In comparison, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain implements moral concepts of African Americans that swept the nation in the reconstruction period. Mark Twain was a civil rights activist who strongly opposed these laws and used his writing to promote change. He states that historically, in his time, “[helping] a hunted slave carried with it a stain, a moral smirch which nothing could wipe away” (Weiner 39). In the novel, Huck is conflicted to help the runaway slave Jim escape to freedom.
He has been preached his entire life that slaves are property. But after traveling down the river together, Finn develops a friendship with Jim and he decides to save him from enslavement. During the Reconstruction Era, the South bitterly opposed the notion of freed slaves. Mark Twain’s writing clearly reflects his views of equal rights. He further infers that perspective by humanizing Jim. Following the Civil War, slaves were seen as animals and brutes. In the novel, Jim protects Huck from the outside world and its dangers. Not only that, he writes how Jim thinks of his family every night.
Mark Twain goes so far to make Jim an equal to a white man by having Huck “[humble himself] to a nigger” (Twain 65). It is clear throughout the book that Twain depicts African Americans as equals to whites. Animals and brutes would never shield a boy from danger, but a human being, a black one, can. By giving him emotion and a voice, he takes away from the negative perception commonly made of blacks. While Twain never mentions the racial issues conflicting the south, he indirectly implies that segregation is wrong. Without doubt, Mark Twain applied the problems from a racially divided era in his novel and to hold these injustices accountable and spread awareness.
The sequence of racially inflamed events following the Civil War drove Mark Twain and Margaret Walker to speak out in their writing. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim is highlighted as a human being, while in Jubilee the reader sees the problems Vyry must cope with. Both writers use their novels to reach out to the audience about the equality issues African Americans were facing. Unmistakably, the authors were driven by the charged political and social events of the reconstruction era to illustrate the racial crisis consuming America.
“Reconstruction.” Columbia Electronics Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, (2011): 1-3, Literary Reference Center. Web. 16 September 2012. Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, New York: Random House, 1996. Print. Walker,
Margaret. Jubilee. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print. Wiener, Gary. Understanding the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001. Print.