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Oxford World’s Classics Book Club:
Arab Stereotypes in Huck Finn

In chapter 24 of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim complains to the duke that “it got mighty heavy and tiresome to him when he had to lay all day in the wigwam tied with the rope” (143) pretending to be a runaway slave. So the duke comes up with a clever solution, “He dressed Jim up in King Lear’s outfit…and then he took his theatre-paint and painted Jim’s face and hands and ears and neck all over a dead dull solid blue, like a man that’s been drownded[sic] nine days…Then the duke took and wrote a sign on a shingle…Sick Arab-but harmless when not out of his head.

Wait, it gets worse.

“The duke told him to make himself free and easy, and if anyone ever came meddling around, he must hop out of the wigwam, and carry on a little, and fetch a howl or two like a wild beast.”

9780192824417.jpgPoor Jim. First he is sidelined by being black and then he is encouraged to dress up as another marginalized race in pre-civil-war society, an Arab. Yet being a “sick Arab” is preferable to being a black, not complete freedom or equality, but the ability to conjure an aura of fear which allows him freedom in isolation.

What do you think Mark Twain was up to here? Was he illustrating a caste system in America or did he have another purpose? What do you think?

Recent Comments

  1. evita

    Mark Twain was most likely trying to make a reference to the Arab slave trade, that trafficked as many, if not more slaves (of all colours, whites included) all over the Arabia as the European and Americans did in their colonies.

    Indeed, in those times being Black was much tougher than to be White or Arab!

  2. rahima

    but what about the rest of the sign:
    ‘harmless when not out of his bed’
    does this indicate a deeper concern?
    like being afraid of Arabs if ever they really wake up and react,that their reaction might be harmful?

  3. Boy76

    You quickly find the treats and treasures, and slowly, you find the limitations. ,

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