Hannah Krivelevich, Shane Nestor, Nikki Nostro
2 June 2014
Mark Twain is not Racist
Racism is defined as “the false belief that people are divided into a hierarchy of races, with certain groups inherently superior to others by virtue of genetic inheritance.” Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is set in the southern United States directly prior to the Civil War, has frequently been criticized for highly racist content. In some extreme cases the novel has even been banned by public school systems and censored by public libraries. The basis for these censorship campaigns has been the depiction of one of the main characters in the novel Jim, a black slave. Jim, is a "typical" black slave who runs away from his "owner" Miss Watson. However, contrary to popular belief, Mark Twain is not prejudice, and there is an abundance of evidence to substantiate this. As a whole, this book is about freedom and the quest for freedom. It's about a slave who breaks the law and risks his life to win his freedom and be reunited with his family, and a white boy who becomes his friend and helps him escape. On a cursory level, the novel certainly appears to be racist, but if the reader were to delve deeper into the literary classic they would discover that it is so much more. Throughout his life Twain made many comments which dispel theories that he is racist. Unlike other people of the time, when comparing whites and persons of color, he does not go out of his way to flatter the white people. For example, Twain once commented “One of my theories is that the hearts of men are about alike, all over the world, whatever their skincomplexions may
be” (Salwen 1). In other words, Twain did not believe that blacks and other colored people were inferior to whites. Rather, he felt that everyone, everywhere, was the same internally, regardless of skin tone. Furthermore, he also once claimed “Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare” (Salwen 1). Twain thought that personality wise, the overall underrated people of color were actually better than the highly respected whites. In fact, this statement probably stemmed from Twain’s knowledge of the poor treatment of black slaves by their white owners. Despite the harsh supervision they were under, African Americans, like Jim, still managed to try and make the best out of their situation. Lastly, Twain has been quoted as saying “There are many humorous things in the world; among them is the white man's notion that he is less savage than all the other savages” (Salwen 2). This may mean that Twain finds it laughable that white people try to rationalize their cruelty by comparing to that of others, when really no cruelty is good cruelty. Although on the surface Twain may seem like someone who is filled with bigotry and hatred, in reality he was actually an outspoken critic of slavery and racism.
In order to most conclusively determine that Mark Twain is not a racist, a reader must also know the opposing point of view. In the 366 page novel, Twain uses the “n” word approximately 219 times. In today’s world, this is rightfully considered extremely offensive and politically incorrect. However, when this novel was penned, the word was culturally appropriate and frequently used. Twain was not trying discriminate against nonwhites; rather, he wrote his novel to be as true to life as possible, hurtful words and all. In one scene, for instance, Aunt Sally learns of a steamboat explosion. “‘Good gracious! anybody hurt?’ she asks. ‘No'm,’ comes the answer. ‘Killed a n*****.’ ‘Well, it's lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt’” (Twain
221). However, Twain did not mean this literally. Here, as in many other places in the book, Twain is using this colloquial dialogue ironically in order to accentuate the harsh reality about ...
Cited: Salwen, Peter. "Is Huck Finn Racist?" MTRACE. Web. 1 June 2014.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Random House, 1996. Print.
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