Portraits of Jim

Mark Twain Display : Mainfloor, Central Library

Portraits of Jim: Character versus Caricature

First depicted in 1884 by illustrator Edward Kemble, images of Jim the runaway slave of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were often more caricature, or cartoon, than fully developed character until well into the 20th Century.  Editions that reproduced the images of Kemble may have been attempting to reprint the original classic, but inadvertently continued the tradition of racist stereotype. Newly illustrated editions, as well as many foreign-language editions, also continued in this vein until artists discovered they could represent pictorially a farcical character to reflect the humor of Twain’s work, without resorting to insult and insensitivity.  For example, Steven Kellogg created humorous images without demeaning a particular race, while artists Barry Moser and Harry Brockway have dignified the character of Jim, as well as Huck, though they are poor and uneducated misfits.