The Characterization

I’m curious what you think of the character “Injun” Joe in Tom Sawyer. Twain based the character on a real person he had known growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, Joe Douglas. The real Joe was an Osage Indian and was not at all “murderous,” as depicted in the book. Indeed, he objected to Twain about the characterization, as have later members of the Osage Nation, including the poet Carter Revard, whose native name Nom-peh-wah-the means “fear-inspiring.” He finds the characterization deeply offensive, including the word associated with Joe, “Injun.” I think what bothers Nom-peh-wah-the even more is the idea that no one seems bothered by this. The title he gave an article on the subject clearly suggests this: “Why Mark Twain Killed Injun Joe, and Why Nobody Cares.”At the same time, it seems to me that Tom’s reaction when he sees the dead Joe in the cave is very important. It suggests some level of empathy on Tom’s part, and presumably on Twain’s.So . . . what do you think of the characterization of Joe throughout, and does the way Tom reacts to his death suggest any positive view of Joe, either in terms of other characters or on Twain’s part. To put it another way, does anyone care that Joe died the way he did?

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