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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Censorship

By canaanaford Feb 26, 2013 1011 Words
"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." (Mark Twain) Throughout the last hundred years, Mark Twain's famous American novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been the center of a heated debate. This argument is centered around the allowance of the book in the curriculum of public schools. Many people from many different interest groups have stated their opinion about the book and the argument, presenting various pertinent arguments; however, the debate remains heated even more than a hundred years after the novel was originally published.

On one side of debate is those opposed to the novel's prominent position in schools. In fact many maintain that it should not be taught at all. This position is widely held. One such opposer is Beatrice Clark, an African American and grandmother of a student in a school system where the book is taught, believes that the book is unacceptable because of the language in it. She finds the use of the N-word, which is used more than 600 times, inflammatory and offensive. "That word, in the history of America, has always been a degrading word toward African Americans. When they were brought to America, they were never thought of as human beings in the first place, and this word was something to call a thing that wasn't humans," says Beatrice. Charles Spokes, president of the NAACP believes that the word is not only unacceptable because of its offensive connotations, but also causes trouble in current relations between racial groups. "What you're saying is those words are OK, but they're not OK to a group of people," he states. This issue with the language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the major concern of the opposing party.

Another significant argument is that Jim is portrayed as ignorant, and the African race in general as presented as lacking in value. Throughout the novel many, including John H. Wallace, find that Jim is represented in an unflattering way. He is shown as unintelligent-- more unintelligent that an adolescent boy-- and simple. Huck must constantly explain things to Jim that Huck finds rather simple and self explanatory. The writers of the book Satire or Evasion, present the example that at one point Huck attempts to explain a story about King Solomon which Huck believes Jim can not understand. He is also portrayed as a rather unintelligent man through Twain's portrayal of his speech patterns and beliefs in spooks and superstition. Jim is also often portrayed as stupid and gullible; for example, when the Duke and Dauphin join Jim and Huck in their adventures, Huck soon realizes they are not really who they say they are and are simple rapscallions. Jim however believes them and even claims he didn't know kings and dukes behaved in such a way.

The slaves in the book as a whole are also portrayed as lacking in value. When Huck lies to Sally Phelps, he mentions that a "nigger" died in the explosion on the ship. She believes that this is rather lucky because "sometimes people get hurt." Huck and Tom also have a little prison adventure while Jim just sits in a shed, worrying that he might not escape in time and not knowing that he is actually a free man. That is information Tom Sawyer is keeping a secret. Bernard Bell, a writer, says, "Twain-- nostalgically and metaphorically-- sells Jim down the river for laughs at the end." The book is also criticized for being atheistic and lacking in morals. This point was emphasized by Louisa May Alcott who thought it unfit for children. This book may have many opposers, but it also has a large number of advocates. Many people advocate the teaching of this book in school for its historical significance. It teaches our history, though it may be somewhat shameful. Hilari Anderson, a highschool teacher and advocate of Mark Twain's classic novel says, "We could ignore the book, but then we're ignoring history. We're ignoring that that language exists. I don't think, in the long run, that's helpful to our kids." This view is shared by many. They hold that the language in the book is accurate for the setting and should be taken for what it is: a part of history that exists and must be recognized. Another teacher, Webb Harris Jr., also believes the book gives a humorous opportunity to discuss a difficult issue. A student named Steven in Virginia writes that if Huck meant the use of the word "nigger" to be offensive, he wouldn't complement Jim and use the word in the same sentence. "He was a mighty good nigger, Jim was." The book is believed to be worth teaching because of the realistic view of history that it presents.

Another reason many advocates hold that Huckleberry Finn should be taught in schools is because it shows the fullness of America. Huck writes about religion, scandal, pain, nature, and just life in general. Writer H.L. Mencken says that Twain breaks it down to elementals without false appearances or façades. He finds it to be one of the greatest masterpieces in the world. Ernest Hemmingway also makes the point that all American Literature comes from it. "It's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." The novel by Mark Twain is held by many to be the best and most exemplary American novel.

As one of the most controversial novels ever written, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is certainly one of the most notable books in western literature. Arguments in opposition and support are widely held and many deserve consideration. With thoughts to the language and offensive character of the novel weighed against its value as a historical resource and specific importance to American literature and its progression, the arguments in favor of the piece being taught, with discretion, seem the most valid. Most assuredly, the disputability of the novel will continue for many years more.

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