How Many Times Can You Hear the Word "Nigger" Before It's Enough?
Kids are often exposed to books long before they are ready for them or exposed to them in a manner that seems almost calculated to evaporate whatever enthusiasm the student may bring to them . . . Very few youngsters of high school age are ready for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Leaving aside its subtle depiction of racial attitudes and its complex view of American society, the book is written in a language that will seem baroque, obscure and antiquated to many young people today. The vastly sunnier Tom Sawyer is a book for kids, but The Adventures for Huckleberry Finn most emphatically is not. (Baker 114) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been considered one of Mark Twain's best works. Huckleberry Finn, Jim and Tom Sawyer are the main characters in the book. The book is a story about Huck Finn who is the son of a harsh drunkard. Huck decides to run away to Jackson's Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. He finds Miss Watson's slave, Jim, while on the island. They decide to head to the free states, but along the way, they run into many problems including getting into a feud between the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons and meeting two thieves. After overcoming a lot of troubles, Huck goes to the Phelps' who just happen to be relation to Tom Sawyer and are expecting Tom. Huck acts as if he is Tom for a long while. Finally, word comes that Jim is free because Miss Watson freed him before she died. As the story ends, Huckleberry decides once again that he will head up north and leaves without telling a single soul. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a racist book. Probably the most discussed aspect of the book is how it addresses the issue of race. Many critics agree that the book's presentation of the issue is complex or, some say, uneven. No clear-cut stance on race and racism emerges, yet the book uses racist language, was accepted in the time period in which it was written, and may have a negative effect on students who read the book.
In order to understand this argument, it is important to look at the background of this problem. Despite the fact that Huck comes to respect Jim as a human being, he still reveals his prejudice towards black people. Dianne Telgen, a contemporary Latina writer, tells us that Huck's astonishment at Jim's deep feelings for his family is accompanied by the statement "I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n. It don't seem natural, but I reckon it's so" (9). And even after he has decided to help free Jim, Huck indicates that he still does not see black people overall as human beings. When Aunt Sally asks Tom Sawyer why he was so late in arriving, he tells her the ship blew a cylinder head. "Good gracious! Anybody hurt?" she asks. "No'm. Killed a nigger." "Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt," she responds (Telgen 9). As some critics have pointed out, Huck never condemns slavery or racial prejudice in general, but he seems to find an exception to the rule in Jim. Nevertheless, the fact that Huck does learn to see beyond racial stereotypes in the case of Jim is a profound development, considering his upbringing. He lived in a household with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson where slaves were owned. And Pap's ranting over a free black man indicates his deep racial prejudice. When confronted with the fact that a free black man was highly educated and could vote, Pap decides he wants nothing to do with a government that has allowed this to happen. He wants the free man, whom he calls "a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger" to be sold at auction (Telgen 9). In other words, all black people are slaves, white man's property, in his eyes. Such are the views on race with which Huck has been raised. But there is no agreement to what Twain's message on the subject of race is. While some critics view the...
Wallace, John. "Huckleberry Finn Is Racist Trash." Readings On The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn. Katie de Koster, ed. Greenhaven Press: San Diego, 1998.
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