Teaching Huck Finn:
The Controversy and the Challenge
Resources on this Site:
1. The Struggle for Tolerance by Peaches Henry.
2. Racism and Huckleberry Finn by Allen Webb (includes list of works for teaching about slavery). Additional Internet Resources:
1. A site created for teachers by WGBH television to compliment the PBS special, "Born to Trouble," that focuses on the innovative Huck Finn curriculum developed in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. 2. The Huck Finn and Censorship Teacher Cyberguide developed for the California Online Resources for Educators Project.
The Struggle for Tolerance:
Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn
Satire and Evasion: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn, 1992 In the long controversy that has been Huckleberry Finn's history, the novel has been criticized, censored, and banned for an array of perceived failings, including obscenity, atheism, bad grammar, coarse manners, low moral tone, and antisouthernism. Every bit as diverse as the reasons for attacking the novel, Huck Finn's detractors encompass parents, critics, authors, religious fundamentalists, rightwing politicians, and even librarians.(1)
Ironically, Lionel Trifling, by marking Huck Finn as "one of the world's great books and one of the central documents of American culture," (2) and T. S. Eliot, by declaring it "a masterpiece," (3) struck the novel certainly its most fateful and possibly its most fatal blow. Trilling's and Eliot's resounding endorsements provided Huck with the academic respectability and clout that assured his admission into America's classrooms. Huck's entrenchment in the English curricula of junior and senior high schools coincided with Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that ended public school segregation, legally if not actually, in 1954. Desegregation and the civil rights movement deposited Huck in the midst of American literature classes which were no longer composed of white children only, but now were dotted with black youngsters as well. In the faces of these children of the revolution, Huck met the group that was to become his most persistent and formidable foe. For while the objections of the Gilded Age, of fundamentalist religious factions, and of unreconstructed Southerners had seemed laughable and transitory, the indignation of black students and their parents at the portrayal of blacks in Huck Finn was not at all comical and has not been short-lived.
The presence of black students in the classrooms of white America the attendant tensions of a country attempting to come to terms with its racial tragedies, and the new empowerment of blacks to protest led to Huck Finn's greatest struggle with censorship and banning. Black protesters, offended by the repetitions of "nigger" in the mouths of white and black characters, Twain's minstrellike portrayal of the escaped slave Jim and of black characters in general, and the negative traits assigned to blacks, objected to the use of Huck Finn in English courses. Though blacks may have previously complained about the racially offensive tone of the novel, it was not until September 1957that the New York Times reported the first case that brought about official reaction and obtained public attention for the conflict. The New York City Board of Education had removed Huck Finn from the approved textbook lists of elementary and junior high schools. The book was no longer available for classroom use at the elementary and junior high school levels, but could be taught in high school and purchased for school libraries. Though the Board of Education acknowledged no outside pressure to ban the use of Huck Finn, arepresentative of one publisher said that school officials had cited "some passages derogatory to Negroes" as the reason for its contract not being renewed. The NAACP, denying that it had placed any organized pressure on the board to remove Huck Finn, nonetheless expressed displeasure with the presence of "racial...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document