THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade): By Mark Twain; with One Hundred and Seventy-Four Illustrations. Charles L. Webster and Co., 1885.
Twain began work on Huckleberry Finn in 1876, eleven years after the American Civil War ended. The year 1876 also marked a change in conditions in the South. During Reconstruction—the period in which the rebel states were brought back into the Union—the region had experienced some progress. Congress, for example, passed a civil rights act in 1875 that guaranteed to all races equal use of trains, hotels, and other public places. Dominated by race-conscious white Southerners from pre-Civil War days, however, the old Democratic Party resumed control of the Southern states in 1876. Under its control, the new civil rights act was widely ignored, and the states began passing Jim Crow laws that required blacks to use separate schools, trains, bathrooms, drinking fountains, and other public facilities. (The name Jim Crow probably dates back to minstrel entertainer Thomas Rice, who in 1830 invented a famous song and jig in imitation of a misshapen old black man whom he saw dancing and singing a ditty that included the words “I jump Jim Crow.”) In 1883 the Supreme Court declared the civil rights act of 1875 unconstitutional, which meant that it was lawful for private businesses to practice segregation.
Officially, blacks were free citizens after the Civil War. Yet deeply ingrained prejudices persisted, and it became lawful to ban black people from hotels, theaters, schools, and restaurants that catered to whites. Twain's novel ends with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn overcoming various obstacles to rescue the captured slave Jim. In the misadventures that follow, Jim learns that his owner, Miss Watson, had died after he fled and in her will had released him from slavery. Huck and Tom, it seems, had been trying to free a black man who was already free. Looking back at the Jim Crow laws and other post-Civil War curbs on Southern blacks, the idea of freeing the freed slave described a very real need. But the parallel was probably unintentional on Twain's part, for in a notice at the beginning of the novel, the author warns readers not to look for a moral in this story.
Adapted from: Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Joyce Moss and George Wilson. Vol. 2: Civil Wars to Frontier Societies (1800-1880s). Detroit, MI: Gale, 1997