Academic journal article Mark Twain Journal

Dancing on the Color Line: African American Tricksters in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Academic journal article Mark Twain Journal

Dancing on the Color Line: African American Tricksters in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Article excerpt

GRETCHEN MARTIN, Dancing on the Color Line: African American Tricksters in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015. 197 pp. Index. Cloth.

Gretchen Martin's first four chapters examine the trickster figures embedded in books written by John Pendleton Kennedy (Swallow Barn), Harriet Beecher Stowe ( Uncle Tom's Cabin), Herman Melville (Benito Cereño), and Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus and other tales). Her fifth chapter sets about appraising the complex characterizations of Jim in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Roxy in Pudd'nhead Wilson. (Martin had earlier written effectively about an unfinished Twain novel-'"The Hated Blood Was in His Own Veins!': Miscegenation and Rage in Mark Twain's Which Was It?)' Mark Twain Journal 53.2 [Fall 2015]: 96-110.)

Dancing on the Color Line delivers one of the most observant analyses of Jim's portrayal ever to have appeared in print. She argues that a close look at his actions and dialogue "reveals a bold, cunning, highly intelligent individual and suggests characteristics representative of the trickster figure featured in black folklore." Moreover, "Jim's commitment to survival is not exclusively self-serving but motivated by his goal to eventually safeguard his family." Martin picks up on a little-noted act of retaliation that Jim successfully executes. After he is sold by the King for forty dollars, he settles the score with the two con men by revealing to Silas Phelps and another man the intentions of the King and the Duke to cheat their community with another of their flimflam shows. …

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