Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American Indians or Stereotypes of American Indians in HUCKLEBERRY FINN

Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer has stereotypes of American Indians in it. Tom Sawyer also has an Indian character who Twain calls "Injun Joe." On January 10, 2011 I wrote an extensive review of Tom Sawyer.

Today I'm taking a few minutes to note occurrences of "Indian" and "Injun" and "powwow" in Huckleberry Finn. Page numbers below are from the copy I read in Google Books. As you'll see, I'm not doing much analysis. This is more of an index of Indian/Injun for others who have read the book and are revisiting it, focusing on those two words.

 On page 17, Huck talks of how he and Tom would go to the cave and "powwow" over what they had done. Twain is using "powwow" to mean "talk about."

On page 20, the text reads that Huck
got an old tin lamp and an iron ring, and went out in the woods and rubbed and rubbed till I sweat like an Injun, calculating to build a palace and sell it; but it warn't no use, none of the genies come.
Sweat like an Injun? As compared to who? I wonder if "sweat like an Injun" was a common saying then?

On page 60, Jim is reminding Huck that he (Huck) said he wouldn't tell on Jim for running away. Huck says in reply:
I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to it. Honest Injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum, but that don't make no difference.
Injun is a slur, and "Honest Injun" Interesting that in a passage where we sympathize with Huck for his anti-slavery stance. On one hand, Twain is doing a good thing. With the other, he's poking at American Indians. I imagine someone arguing that he didn't know that he was denigrating Indians. What do you think?

On page 131, the text reads:
There was a yell at us, and a jingling of bells to stop the engines, a powwow of cussing, and whistling of steam--and as Jim went overboard on one side and I on the other, she came smashing straight through the raft.
"She" is another boat. I think Twain uses "powwow" here to mean "lot of people." He uses "powwow" again on page 166, where he writes "then she would turn a corner and her lights would wink out and her powwow shut off and leave the river still again..." In that use, I think he means noise generated by the boat itself.

On page 196, the text reads:
Boggs comes a-tearing along on his horse, whopping and yelling like an Injun, and singing out: "Cler the track, thar. I'm on the waw-path, and the price uv coffins is a-gwyne to raise." 
Boggs, we learn, is drunk, and that he is "the best-natured-est old fool in Arkansaw--never hurt nobody, drunk nor sober." In that scene, Boggs, "on the waw-path" is out to kill a lot of people. He draws on stereotypical ideas about Indians, but he would never hurt anyone. Does Twain mean for us to believe that Indians aren't hurt by those words? Course, he probably didn't think that a Native person would read at all.

On page 241, Joanna and Huck are talking with each other. She wonders if Huck has been telling her the truth:
"Honest injun, now, hain't you been telling me a lot of lies?"
"Honest injun," says I.
"None of it at all?"
"None of it at all. Not a lie in it," says I. 
Beverly Clark, a colleague in children's literature, has a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature, wherein she traces the first use of "Honest Injun" to Twain's Tom Sawyer, published in 1876. The phrase is still used, as demonstrated by former GOP chair Steele. It appears again in Huckleberry Finn on page 312.

On page 251, Twain writes that the undertaker "glided along, and the powwow and racket getting more and more outrageous all the time..."  Again, it seems to me he's using it to indicate talking.

On page 280, "there was a rattling powwow" --- It could be noise or people talking.

On page 372, Tom and Huck are scheming to help Jim. Tom writes a letter, signing it from "Unknown Friend" that says that:
a desprate gang of cutthroats from over in the Indian Territory going to steal your runaway nigger to-night, and they have been trying to scare you so as you will stay in the house and not bother them.
The letter says that Unknown Friend is one of the cutthroats but that he's "got religgion" and wants to quit the gang. Historically, there were cutthroat gangs in Indian Territory. Many were tried in the courtroom of Isaac Parker, the man who came to be known as "the Hanging Judge."

On page 379, the text reads:
They'd had all the dogs shut up, so they wouldn't scare off the robbers; but by this time somebody had let them loose, and here they come, making powwow enough for a million; but they was our dogs; so we stopped in our tracks till they catched up...
As seen in earlier pages, Twain is using it to mean noise.

On page 388, farmers and their wives are talking about "niggers" who:
stole that shirt right off o' the line! and as for that sheet they made the rag ladder out of, ther' ain't no telling how many times they didn't steal that; and flour, and candle, and candlesticks, and spoons, and the old warming pan, and most a thousand things that I disremember now, and my new calico dress; and me and Silas and my Sid and tom on the constant watch day and night, as I was a-telling you, and not a one of us could catch hide nor hair nor sight nor sound of them; and here at the last minute, lo and behold you, they slides right in under our noses and fools us, and not only fools us, but the Injun Territory robbers too, and actuly gets away with that nigger safe and sound, and that with sixteen men and twenty-two dogs right on their very heels at that very time!
In the letter (on page 372), Twain had Tom write "Indian Territory" but in the dialogue, the character says "Injun" instead.

I'll say briefly that most, if not all of Twain's use of Injun/Indian/powwow are examples of racially inflected language.

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