Hsu's essay argues that the racially differentiated experiences of mobility depicted in Huckleberry Finn are informed by a range of vagrancy laws that restricted access to public spaces. Such legal constraints on mobility were deployed throughout the South and West to control the mobility of African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants. Post-Reconstruction practices such as convict lease and the enforcement of vagrancy laws help account for Huck and Jim's divergent experiences of mobility and captivity as they travel downriver in Twain's novel. Racially differentiated restrictions on vagrancy also connect Huckleberry Finn to a range of literary intertexts, including Twain's own Tom Sawyer and “Goldsmith's Friend Abroad Again.” In “Three Vagabonds of Trinidad,” Bret Harte revises the Jackson's Island episode of Huckleberry Finn by presenting a provisional friendship between a Native American, a Chinese boy, and an adventurous white boy that develops in Humboldt County, California. Read together, these texts demonstrate how racial stereotypes colluded with the policing of public and private spaces to reproduce racial hierarchies in the wake of Emancipation. At the same time, they make visible potential cross-racial affiliations between different groups undergoing disparate but comparable experiences of displacement, exile, and imprisonment.
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Hsuan L. Hsu; Vagrancy and Comparative Racialization in Huckleberry Finn and “Three Vagabonds of Trinidad”. American Literature 1 December 2009; 81 (4): 687–717. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-043
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