Should "Huckleberry Finn" be taught in High Schools?

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"At the heart of Huckleberry Finn lies a story about real human figures with genuine moral and ethical problems and decisions..." (Lauriat 26). This statement reveals the true nature of Twain's controversial novel by looking at the deeper messages of the book. This novel is a hot debate topic in any English classroom because many find it hard to look past the few racist epithets that are repeated and analyze the issues that the author, Mark Twain, addresses. Supporters of the novel state that because Twain was a "product of his time," his book reveals the harsh stereotypes of that period, something that must be looked at more closely. Opponents claim that the continuous racial insults void the book of any true substance.

Controversy cannot be avoided with the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but analyzing this controversy is what is important to high school students. Despite being occasionally depicted in negative ways, the numerous positive portrayals of African Americans make this novel quite appropriate for high schools because it obligates high school students to analyze and understand how blacks overcame the stereotypes against them in the Southern society. Twain constantly criticizes the white society by proving just how strong and competent blacks were during the racist period, and students must be able to analyze these criticisms. Throughout the novel, Jim is constantly shown as a positive figure, characterized by paternal qualities, selfless deeds, and his assertion of his intelligence, while the racist white characters are depicted as narrow-minded when they criticize Jim.

First, however, critics of this book feel it is inappropriate for classroom because of some of the racial epithets. One such example is the repeated use of the word "nigger" to describe a black person. As an African American school teacher states, "It is very difficult for my students and it is difficult for me...The use of the N-word (the word 'nigger' appears more than 200 times) and the way Jim is depicted as so childish is hard for them" (Smith n.p.). However, this single detail should not be used as the basis for banning the book. The term "nigger" is how slaves were referred to at that time, and because the word was so widely used in the South, Twain uses it a number of times to correctly portray the times. Furthermore, African American parents oppose the teaching of the novel saying it is "insulting and even humiliating to black students" (Apstein n.p.). It is understandable that reading the horrid portrayals of their own people is difficult for blacks, but they cannot ignore how slaves were dealt with back then. Ignoring the intense prejudice against blacks in the 19th century will not help students achieve the ability to tolerate unpleasant facts that are uncomfortable. Only by reading about the stereotypes against blacks will students be able to analyze prejudices and learn to think critically about them.

More importantly, however, Twain focuses a major part of the book on Jim's noble and dignified qualities, which allow him to move past the stereotypes held against him. Mostly, Jim's positive characteristics are shown through his interaction with Huck. He primarily serves as a father figure to Huck, helping the young boy throughout all of their adventure. Huck recalls some moments between with Jim where he "would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was" (Twain 210). Jim is very affectionate towards Huck despite the fact that Huck often plays tricks on him. Jim is able to look past Huck's petty actions and still realize he needs to take care of the lonely child. Another instance of the portrayal of Jim's paternal characteristics occurs when he and Huck find a dead body, which is really Huck's abusive father, Pap, at the floating house. Jim protects Huck from the horrific sight saying, "It's a dead man...Come in, Huck, but doan' look at his face--it's...
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