Nat Hentoff's Response to Huck Finn

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When the main character of a novel vehemently exclaims his preference to “go to hell” over reporting a lost slave, it would seem that the readers of Huck Finn would understand Twain’s aversion to slavery and the horrors that this obscure institution imposed on millions of imprisoned persons (Twain as quoted by Nat Hentoff). Nat Hentoff, a First Amendment expert and Twain scholar, argues in an article titled “Expelling ‘Huck Finn’” that despite the many hesitations one may have about allowing controversial books to be taught in schools, it is necessary to keep the students educated on the topics these books discuss and inspire. While Hentoff’s appeals to emotion are persuasive enough for a newspaper article, his lack of evidence and shaky support for the main arguments prove to weaken his appeal to the American public for a cause that is completely necessary: continuing youths’ education of past events, ideals, and stereotypes, causing them to reflect on judgments and morals presently held by society.

In an attempt to rebuke the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s claim that controversial books damage the self-esteem of African-American children, Hentoff recounts an experience where he talked with a group of eighth-grade students who were studying Mark Twain’s Huck Finn alongside a history of cities with a reputation for having a high tolerance for racism. One student in the class was bold enough to comment that his class was taught that the “bigots” Twain referred to in his novel commonly referred to African-Americans as “niggers,” stating that just because of Twain’s over-zealous use of the term did not equate to an assumption that Huck Finn was a racist novel (Hentoff). On the contrary, this particular student claimed that as evidence that Twain was expressly critiquing the word and people who used it in order to write a very anti-racist novel. While this outspoken student may have grasped Twain’s purpose, it is very likely that...
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