Racism in Huck Finn
Ever since it was written, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn has been a novel
that many people have found disturbing. Although some argue that the novel is
extremely racist, careful reading will prove just the opposite. In recent years
especially, there has been an increasing debate over what some will call the
racist ideas in the novel. In some cases the novel has even been banned by
public school systems and censored by public libraries. The basis for the debate
is how Jim, a black slave and one of the main characters, is depicted. However,
if one was to look at the underlying themes in the novel, they would realize that
it is not racist and could even be considered an anti - slavery novel.
The most popular problem people have with this book is the use of the word
"nigger". It must be remebered that during this time period it was not considered
much of an insullt. You can also notice in the book it was not meant offensively by
Huck, or taken offensively by Jim. This is what Stephan Shepard had to say about the
banning of the book and the use of the word "nigger":
In addition to removing Mark Twain's novel from the
required reading list, the district decided to use a
censored version of the novel on its optional list.
Admittedly, the censorship is minor the infamous
"n-word" is deleted throughout the novel - however,
it is not only a dishonest alteration of Twain's craft, it
is also an unfair attempt to enforce the tastes of a few
upon all students in the district. (Shepard 1)
Also a column in The New York Times pointed out, "Huckleberry Finn is in constant
trouble with teachers, librarians and parents because of its iterations of "nigger", a
word that has a preemptive force today that it did not have in Huck Finn's Mississippi
Valley of the 1840s" (Ritter 2).
Another aspect of the novel that some consider racist is the description of
Jim. The first time the reader meets Jim, a very negative description is given. It
is said that Jim is illiterate, childlike, not very bright and extremely superstitious.
However, it is important not to lose sight of who is giving this description.
Although Huck is not exactly a racist child, he has been raised by extremely
racist individuals and has had certain ideas about blacks put in his head. Also,
sad as it is, this description was probably pretty accurate for the time period.
Millions of slaves in the South were not permitted any formal education, were
not allowed any independent thought and were constantly abused. Twain is
portraying a very realistic slave raised in the South during this time period, and to
say that he is racist because of his historical accuracy is ridiculous. Casting
judgment upon him and calling him racist is not only unfair, but also
pointless. The values of Twain's time were different than the values of today.
The very existence of slavery proves this. Twain has no obligation to live up to
today's morals or ethical values, and cannot be expected to because they did not
exist when he was alive. Therefore, the present-day objections to Huckleberry
Finn are ridiculous. It is stupidity to go back and apply standards that are
predominate today, to novels written more than a hundred years ago (Baldanza
2). Also, it is important to remember in Chapter 15, the reader is told of an
incident which contradicts the original childlike description of Jim. In fact, the
reader is presented with a very caring and father - like individual who becomes
very worried when he loses Huck in the fog (Twain 134). This is in order to
point out the connection made...
Cited: Allen, Micheal. Classic Literary Criticisms. New York: Oxford University Press. 1981
Conn, Peter. Literature in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Fishkin, Shelley F., Was Huck Black? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993),
Nichols, Timothy. Classic Criticism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1976
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