Twain

A lot of you have weighed in on our system of “justice” that occurred last night as the jury returned a verdict that Zimmerman is “not guilty.”

Well, maybe that means he’s not innocent.

I got the news about Zimmerman while watching a 2001 documentary about Mark Twain. Arguably (or perhaps not), the author was among the first White Civil Rights activists, precisely at the time while I was watching the Ken Burns’ biography of Twain and his writing of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Let’s not debate the topic until after you watch the documentary.

Mark Twain LectureAnd if you haven’t read the book, you should now.

In his travels from East to West and from North to South, he was, according to the documentary, the first American writer to transcribe our unique use of the English language. It is our literary and social history of our nation’s transformative consciousness that seems to be declining back into unconsciousness and apathy.

Twain is quoted as saying, With us no individual is born with a right to look down upon his neighbor and hold him in contempt.

So, as I write this, I’m thinking my musings may be off-topic—or not. I don’t know. What I do know is that I was struck by the incongruity of Twain’s progressiveness and what I can only call a travesty in our court system as I heard the news about the acquittal of the man I feel is Trayvon Martin’s murder.

And, perhaps by acquitting Zimmerman, we are contemptuous of not only the Martin family, but what may be subversion of the entire justice system by the jury returning a verdict in what some people describe as a “reverse OJ” decision. It would appear, according to Twain, I have the right to look down on Zimmerman in contempt. In fact, I’ve decided to do the same with the jurors who not only failed to convict Zimmerman of 2nd Degree Murder, but also failed to return a verdict of even manslaughter.

But, back to Huck Finn, a character who faced a crisis of conscience during his travels with Nigger Jim. (Pardon the use of the “N” word, but that’s the name of the character.) In the tale, Jim was heading north to freedom. Huck traveled with him along the Mississippi River and, as the story goes, listened to Jim weep each night, mourning the ex-slave’s separation from his family members as he watched them sold off, one by one, as slaves for other families.

Jim told Huck his plans, as soon as he reached the North, was to work and work and work so he could buy each of his family.

 

Huck and Jim

 

As they traveled together, sleeping under the moonlight, laughing together, they built an ever-deepening friendship. But, Huck becomes concerned that he is going to hell because he is not only helping Jim escape, he might be doing wrong in the eyes of God and the law. He then plans to write a letter to inform Jim’s “owner” as to the ex-slave’s whereabouts.

What ensues is Huck’s realization that some time during their travels, his perception of “N” Jim turned into that of his friend, Jim.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

“Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.”

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.

I wonder what Mark Twain would say if he were here today knowing that America decided to send that letter.

Mark Twain

 

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1 Comment

  1. “I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.”

    A place I think all us wish to get to. Most days. Thanks for taking me there Bev.