Although Mark Twain was brought up believing slavery was natural and good he gradually learnt better. He came to realize, as he said in his notebooks after he wrote Huck Finn, “The skin of every human being contains a slave.” We don’t have slavery any more in North America, at least to the extent we once did, even though we still have racism aplenty. Racism has taken over from slavery in many places (though slavery has not disappeared) and it is just as wicked. So long as we have racism, in our system, the skin of every human will contain a racist.
That is why we all need liberation from racism. The racists need liberation as much as the oppressed races. Just as Twain was right when he said “Lincoln’s proclamation…not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.”
The person who most exemplifies the wickedness of slavery and racism was Huck’s father: Pap. Though Aunt Sally and the widow Watson exemplify a more subtle racism that is perhaps more reprehensible because it is so sly. Pap is the most repulsive character in the novel. He also demonstrates the close connection between hatred of slaves with hatred of government. He would no doubt today be a card-carrying member of the truckers’ convoy movement. As Huck pointed out, “Whenever his liquor begun to work he most always went for the govment. Pap was appalled that the government would take a man’s son away from him because he was abusing his son. For Pap like a slave belongs to the slave owner, the son belongs to the father! As Pap lamented:
Call this a govment! Why, just a look at it and see what it’s like. Here’s the law a-standing ready to take a man’s son away from him—a man’s own son, which he has had all the trouble and the anxiety and all the expense of raising. Yes, just as that man has got that son raised at last, and ready to go to work and begin to suthin’ for him and give him rest, the law up and goes for him. And they call tdo hat govment!”
And if that is not clear enough—if the connection between parenting and slaveholding is not clear enough, Pap, speaking of the judge who ordered that Pap had no more right to be considered a parent of Huck because of his deep misconduct, he adds, “The law backs that old judge Thatcher up and helps him to keep me out of my property.”He saw his son as his property.
To Pap it is irrelevant that he never did raise Huck or pay his expenses because that does not matter. What matters is that as a son Huck is his property!
Pap was also disgusted that in some parts of the country, like Ohio, there are free niggers! Imagine that! And this nigger was allowed to dress in fancy clothes and carry a fancy cane and “talk in all kinds of languages and… be a “p’fessor in a college.” What was the country coming to he asked? There were even states where niggers were allowed to vote! That was why he decided he would never vote again. And he could hardly believe that a nigger would not make way for him unless he shoved him out of the way. And the last straw, in some states they could not sell niggers!
This was the father who taught Huck morals and educated his conscience. No wonder Huck needed to be freed from him and his views.
And even though bald-faced racists like that are now less common, racism is very common. And unconsciously we are taught it from our parents and our world. Revolting from it is not easy. It is hard.