Writing and Lit. Studies
The Adventures of...Racism?
There are many different opinions about the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, some are positive, others aren’t. It seems as if one of the main controversies is whether or not the novel should be taught in schools due to conflicting perceptions of the book. In the two articles “Why Huck Finn Belongs in Classrooms” by Jocelyn Chadwick who is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and “Say It Ain’t So, Huck” by Jane Smiley a Pulitzer Prize winning author, the two writers take opposite stances on many issues. Chadwick argues that the novel artfully sparks the much needed discussion about race that is so desperately feared yet needed, whereas Smiley suggests that it lowers the standard of discussion about the issues and isn’t worthy to be in such a position.
In her article Chadwick reasons that, being an African American herself, she would rather be dealing with someone who is working through their thoughts and beliefs when it comes to race rather than a blatant racist. She then goes on to say that people accuse Mark Twain of having “conflicting, conflicted attitudes” (Chadwick 1) on his stance with discrimination and racism in the book and life. She says that despite that, readers must still factor in that he is indeed questioning his roots and the foundations of his entire moral rearing, due to the time period this is a very positive thing. For many years schools have banned books from being taught to their students because of parent complaints. These books have been shunned from the criteria, which may or may not affect the student's understanding on a specific subject. People have been fighting to have these books banned because of excessive use of profanity, violence, sex, drugs and many other reasons. They do not look further in the books to see exactly what the author is trying to portray. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is banned in various places in the United States. This book should not be banned because, this book shows an important part in our history, it is not pro-racism, and it shows how far along we have come since then. Twain did not intend to be racist when using the "N" word. "Twain wrote to be funny and controversial, like the comedians of our era who routinely insult audiences. He was the Lenny Bruce of his day" (Jeff Kintop, chairman of Nevada's naming board) Many people argue that the famous author Mark Twain a.k.a Samuel Clemens was racist. Readers believe this due to him using the "N" word in his literary works. Mark Twain was indeed not a racist. Twain was a man of his time. He wrote in words that were appropriate in his era. Twain had similar views as Abraham Lincoln. He believed that everyone of all different races were equal. Twain grew up in a slave state, and witnessed many slaves throughout his lifetime.the injustices of slavery of the 18 hundreds and also as a comedic relief from time to time. The occasion of this book was during the 1845 along the Mississippi River. This novel takes place after Mark Twain's previous novel "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" in this novel though Twain tells the story of an orphan boy Huckleberry Finn, who was briefly mentioned in the prior book. Huck finds a runaway slave Jim after escaping from his abusive father and they both pair up and travel down the Mississippi in search for freedom. During their journey they travel through Missouri Illinois, and Arkansas. The Mississippi river played a role in helping Huck and Jim escape as well as a place for though, and the time period made it dangerous for escaped slaves such as Jim.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is very important to the American culture. When Mark Twain was around, the use of the word "nigger" was quite common. That was how they referred to African Americans in that time. In the book, Twain makes Pap look like the worst possible white trash where as Huck and Jim, the slave, get closer throughout the book. The book shows how people felt towards African Americans back in the day and how it was wrong. They considered them as "inhuman." In The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, Aunt Sally seems to be a nice person, but when the little black boy was killed she does not care since "no human was hurt." This shows how far along we have come since this time period. Mark Twains use of the "N" word was in no way, shape, or form racist. In a 1853 letter, Mark Twain wrote: "I reckon I had better black my face, for in these Eastern states, n***s are considerably better than white people." In 1904, Mark Twain wrote in his notebook: "The skin of every human being contains a slave." After stating these quotes. How could one possibly believe that Mark Twain was a racist? He was clearly not a racist man.
Many would agree that the language and descriptions used by the Mr. Twain towards the African-American race, especially Jim, a slave, is crude and extremely racist. When Huckleberry Finn was published in the 1880's many people believed in slavery still after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, by President Abraham Lincoln, over twenty years prior. Most southerners gave praise to Mark Twain for his novel and “supporting” racism, and many people from the north were concerned and perturbed by Mr. Twain’s writings because of the racist viewpoint of the narrator Huck. Mark Twain, contrary to popular belief and the viewpoint of Huckleberry Finn, was not a racist. If Twain was a racist. Why would he make the main character of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have a bestfriend that was a slave? Why would he portray Jim as a good person in the novel?
Twain understood racism better than other writers of his time. He was raised in Mississippi, which was a slave state at the time. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows the darkness and horror that is slavery. He demonstrates precisely how cruel and heartless slavery in our country is without heed for pleasantries. Twain’s entire background surrounds being around racism; he is writing from past experience. Growing up, Mark Twain was in a family which owned not just one, but hundreds of slaves. He grew up in a time where the idea of freeing blacks was a massive political issue. One of the prosecution’s arguments was that Pap is a racist, therefore Mark Twain is racist. This is not true. If someone grows up with an alcoholic father, the person has two choices: 1) they will either grow up and become a drinker themselves, or 2) they will never want anything to do with alcohol again. The latter is the case with Mark Twain; because Twain spent a lot of time around slavery, it allowed him to form his own ideas it. It’s clear that, in his mind, Twain does not think of slaves as lesser human beings. On the rare occasion that Twain does venture to compare blacks and whites, the comparison is not conspicuously flattering to the whites; on one occasion, he says, "One of my theories is that the hearts of men are about alike, all over the world, whatever their skin-complexions may be." Do these really sound like the thoughts of a racist man?
Further, when a person spends a great amount of time around something, generally they become very well educated on that topic and form their own ideas; Mark Twain is a fantastic example of this very idea. He spent most of his days in the south around racist white folk, and his childhood around slavery. It would stand to reason that he learned, whether he liked it or not, the diction and ideas of a white racist. Mark Twain was writing from past experience. He was able to write a book about racism because he grew up with racist people, not because he was a racist person himself. Was Mark Twain a racist, or was he just that good of a writer?