February 22, 2010
Moral Education through Literature
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn touches upon controversial racial issues that many people believe are not appropriate for young children. Understanding the novel’s satirical aspects requires a certain amount of intellectual maturity. Students below this level of aptitude may misconstrue the novel’s vulgar comments as racist, rather than an ironic portrayal of slavery. Some people feel that the elementary and secondary school students that read the book will only recognize the prominent issues of the novel and will overlook Mark Twain’s depiction that slavery is morally wrong. It is a fallacy that junior high students would be blind to Twain’s underlying references. The renowned literary work should be used as a way to educate students about the cruelty that occurred in our nation’s past. Confronting these deep racial issues could enlighten students and ease existing race relations. Huckleberry Finn should be read in schools prior to high school to familiarize students with important social issues. Those that oppose Huckleberry Finn’s presence in elementary and secondary school curricula claim that its advanced material is not suitable for children of those ages. At this point, they argue, students have not matured enough to form their own views and are susceptible to negative influences. Reading Huckleberry Finn would expose students to acts of prejudice and belittlement of the black population. For example, the repeated use of the word “nigger” is disrespectful and students should not hear it used so frivolously. This word not only has a negative connotation, but it is a reminder of the inequality that once existed and alienates blacks. Furthermore, Jim, the black protagonist of the novel, is ridiculed and reduced to less than human by the novel’s conclusion. Jim’s character starts out as an enslaved black man oppressed by the white population. As he and Huck travel down the river, Jim gains confidence and the reader sees his true intelligence and compassion for Huck. Only shortly later, Jim gets drawn into Tom Sawyer’s extravagant plan to “free” him, where he is once again at the mercy of others’ cruelty. This vicious degradation of a human being far too advanced for young children to comprehend. Black students specifically may find this material embarrassing and discomforting. Young students of other ethnicities may have not yet had experiences that teach them the effects of this chauvinistic mentality and may see this behavior as acceptable. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses language that is offensive and contains subject matter that illuminates the separation between races. Twain purposely shares these truths in order to denounce and ironize the entire institution of slavery. The belief that elementary and secondary school students cannot understand Twain’s underlying intentions completely underestimates their mental capacity. Discussing these issues could shape students’ ideas and thwart any preconceived derogatory notions. Leslie Fiedler, an advocate of Huck Finn praises the novel for, “enabling us finally—without denying our horror and guilt—to laugh therapeutically at the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery” (Fiedler, 1984, Huckleberry Finn: The Book We Love to Hate, p. 6). He sees the novel as a way to objectively address slavery and free our nation of its lasting burden. In a classroom setting with the help of an instructor, every element of the story would be explained. Teachers are important mentors that can guide each student to an understanding of the evolution and importance of human rights.
Proposition: Huckleberry Finn should be read in schools prior to high school because it is informative about important social issues. Plan: Present the argument. Take a position. Provide a concession to my position. Confirm...