Minstrelsy, or minstrel shows, were a widely popular form of entertainment during the eighteenth century that consisted of comedic acts of white people negatively impersonating the African American population as lazy, unintelligent, and superstitious with offensive theatrical makeup called blackface. While minstrel shows encouraged the promotion of music and what Americans may have considered to be the high points of black culture in some shows, they also showed extreme discrimination and racial inequality. With the rise of minstrelsy also came the growing influence that these negative caricatures had on society and culture, even literature. One literary work creates a large amount of controversy even today because of its seemingly racial and discriminatory plot; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is controversial only because of Twain’s accurate depiction of the social issues of the time, especially race. Mark Twain himself loved minstrel shows, and because he accurately portrays his characters as products of their time, including Jim, the different caricatures of the stereotypical black slave are evident in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Jim rejects the stereotypical blackface portrayal of minstrelsy.
Blackface characters made their appearance in minstrel shows by the late eighteenth century as minor roles in the plot or scene. An increase in blackface shows led to the creation of the “Sambo” character, played by white actors like George Washington Dixon, Edwin Forrest, and Charles Mathews. Music within black culture was emphasized throughout the shows, especially with Thomas Dartmouth Rice’s “Jump Jim Crow,” that increased the popularity of minstrel shows even more. Minstrel shows became a stro…
… is influenced my Mark Twain’s interest in minstrelsy, and furthermore the stereotypical blackface characters represented in the increasingly popular minstrel shows that influenced a great deal in American society and culture, as well as created a very negative caricature of blacks during the time. Jim neglects the stereotype of the happy-go-lucky “Sambo” by running away from his master to obtain freedom, yet he also does not represent the “dandified coon,” as he is fairly intelligent, selfless, and kind-hearted in all of his actions. Thus, as the growing popularity of minstrel shows continued and spread its influence among American culture, Mark Twain’s depiction of Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn offers a rejection of the blackface portrayals of minstrelsy.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Bantam, 1981. Print.