Cutting against the grain of historicist and identitarian readings of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, this essay focuses on the novel’s preoccupation with seeing and not seeing—its dramatizations of how subjects perceive, or fail to perceive, objects and bodies. Instead of reading the novel as a study of moral development that traces Huck’s growing appreciation for Jim’s humanity, I argue that Huckleberry Finn stages crises of representation, calling attention to the novel’s own inability to fully render objects, in particular, Jim’s body. I consider the strategies Twain provides the reader for animating or vivifying Jim as a character—and, more importantly, what Twain withholds from the reader in this respect—showing how the novel disrupts the smooth functioning of characterization, frustrating the reader’s longing to know Jim, to fully saturate his imaginary body and imbue him with the fullness of interiority. In this way, Twain draws attention to the ethical challenge of regarding persons out of perceptual reach and denaturalizes the notion that a literary character is a mimesis of a person. Ultimately, I reassess Huckleberry Finn’s representation of enslavement, showing how the novel calls into question the category of normative personhood and its centrality to ethical thought.


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pp. 337-361
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