Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, has been viewed as providing a very negative view of racism, but Twain also has a lot to say about Southern culture in general. The book does not just talk about the negative aspects of racism and slavery – the way that whites treated blacks. Twain also has many negative things to say about the way that whites treated whites. Huckleberry Finn is not just a book about racism and slavery before the Civil War; it is also a book about how bad white culture was in general at that time.
At the time Twain was writing the book, the early- to mid-1880’s, the world that he was representing was already distant history for many Americans. Twain grew up in pre-Civil War Hannibal, Missouri, in the 1840’s and much of the setting of the book, as well as the characters, is based on his boyhood experiences and friends (Pflueger 17). Twain’s family was not rich and got into more financial trouble as time went by, meaning that they were not the kind of people who would have owned slaves (Pflueger 22). Twain nonetheless certainly would have seen the occasional slave and also learned much about the white culture of the time that stuck with him until later in life. He wrote both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) about his hometown of Hannibal and the people and life he had known there, but Huckleberry Finn is not a fun book about river rafting and fishing. As an older man, Twain remembered many negative things about the culture he lived in as a child, and he wrote about them, too.
As Twain grew older, he learned more about the world and suffered losses. His son, Langdon, died of diphtheria when he was only 19 months old (Pflueger 40). Twain lived in the Northeast for many years and personally knew Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass. He learned more about the struggles of black people and women while he lived in Connecticut and Buffalo, but he never forgot about the place where he grew up (Pflueger 51). He was able to see the experiences he had when he was a boy in a different way. He probably came to understand that even though his childhood was mostly pleasant, there were a lot of things about the culture where he grew up that were not so good. Even when Twain was living in the Northeast, he was working at a newspaper and he knew what was going on in the South. Although slavery ended when President Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and was completely finished when the Union won in 1865, much of the culture of the South did not change very much after the Civil War. During Reconstruction, the time after the Civil War, blacks did not suddenly become wealthy and whites did not suddenly accept black people. The opposite happened. Whites passed laws that made it hard for blacks to vote and own land, leading to the start of the Jim Crow Era in the South. Most blacks were not much better off than they were before the war and white people were still poor and proud and ignorant – this was the time that Twain was writing Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain looked back on his youth in the writing of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and even though he remembered happy things a lot of fond memories of growing up on the Mississippi River (Pflueger 21), Twain did not like a lot of what he saw, either in terms of white treatment of blacks or white treatment of whites. Even though slavery was over, Twain still felt he had to write Huckleberry Finn because the book does not just remember slavery and talk about how bad everything was back then when the country was uncivilized. Many people do not realize it, but Twain was not just criticizing the culture of the South of the 1840’s when he was a boy who was Huck’s age, he was criticizing the culture that was still in existence in the 1880’s at the time of his writing.
White Southern attitudes are in view from the first...