Chapter 5: American Labyrinth

V. Huck and Jim and Us

By the time Mark Twain sends Huck Finn and Jim floating downriver into the maze of American slavery, racism, and hypocrisy, the American story has already given the world the Hopi Indians’ Man in the Maze, Pocahontas and John Smith and John Rolfe, and Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. The moral wilderness is not as run over with European exiles as it will be, but it is already peopled with interesting maze-wanderers. Huck and Jim swirl around the Mississippi in a storm and float past Cairo, and Jim’s possible freedom, as they head south into slave territory, the “dismal maze” of America that makes the Puritan chapter in New England look like a pre-season baseball game. Huck will face his own crisis of conscience (“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”), his own labyrinth of doubt, as he debates whether or not to turn in Jim.

            One hundred and thirty eight years after the publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and many book bans later, America still wrestles with this original sin, still wanders in the maze with a Minotaur of white supremacy lurking around every next turn. In 1967, 353 years after John Rolfe married Pocahontas in early Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled, in Loving v. Virginia, that the Fourteenth Amendment protected the interracial marriage of Virginia residents Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Loving, a woman of color. America’s labyrinth of love has traveled paths of trouble—patriarchal white male supremacy, miscegenation fears, “fear of a black planet” as Public Enemy put it. And the love labyrinth reflects the broader political labyrinth. As the clear-minded, prophetic journalist Hal Crowther wrote in January 2020, “The political labyrinth in which we seem lost is like nothing this country has ever seen before—certainly like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve been a working journalist since 1967.”

            We’re lost in this labyrinth together, Americans.

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