Racism in Huck Finn

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Racism in Huck Finn

Ever since it was written, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn has been a novel

that many people have found disturbing. Although some argue that the novel is

extremely racist, careful reading will prove just the opposite. In recent years

especially, there has been an increasing debate over what some will call the

racist ideas in the novel. In some cases the novel has even been banned by

public school systems and censored by public libraries. The basis for the debate

is how Jim, a black slave and one of the main characters, is depicted. However,

if one was to look at the underlying themes in the novel, they would realize that

it is not racist and could even be considered an anti - slavery novel.

The most popular problem people have with this book is the use of the word

"nigger". It must be remebered that during this time period it was not considered

much of an insullt. You can also notice in the book it was not meant offensively by

Huck, or taken offensively by Jim. This is what Stephan Shepard had to say about the

banning of the book and the use of the word "nigger":

In addition to removing Mark Twain's novel from the

required reading list, the district decided to use a

censored version of the novel on its optional list.

Admittedly, the censorship is minor the infamous

"n-word" is deleted throughout the novel - however,

it is not only a dishonest alteration of Twain's craft, it

is also an unfair attempt to enforce the tastes of a few

upon all students in the district. (Shepard 1)

Also a column in The New York Times pointed out, "Huckleberry Finn is in constant

trouble with teachers, librarians and parents because of its iterations of "nigger", a

word that has a preemptive force today that it did not have in Huck Finn's Mississippi

Valley of the 1840s" (Ritter 2).

Another aspect of the novel that some consider racist is the description of

Jim. The first time the reader meets Jim, a very negative description is given. It

is said that Jim is illiterate, childlike, not very bright and extremely superstitious.

However, it is important not to lose sight of who is giving this description.
Although Huck is not exactly a racist child, he has been raised by extremely

racist individuals and has had certain ideas about blacks put in his head. Also,

sad as it is, this description was probably pretty accurate for the time period.

Millions of slaves in the South were not permitted any formal education, were

not allowed any independent thought and were constantly abused. Twain is

portraying a very realistic slave raised in the South during this time period, and to

say that he is racist because of his historical accuracy is ridiculous. Casting

judgment upon him and calling him racist is not only unfair, but also

pointless. The values of Twain's time were different than the values of today.

The very existence of slavery proves this. Twain has no obligation to live up to

today's morals or ethical values, and cannot be expected to because they did not

exist when he was alive. Therefore, the present-day objections to Huckleberry

Finn are ridiculous. It is stupidity to go back and apply standards that are

predominate today, to novels written more than a hundred years ago (Baldanza

2). Also, it is important to remember in Chapter 15, the reader is told of an

incident which contradicts the original childlike description of Jim. In fact, the

reader is presented with a very caring and father - like individual who becomes

very worried when he loses Huck in the fog (Twain 134). This is in order to

point out the connection made...
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