When it comes to the topic of discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in schools, most of us will agree that the interactions between whites and blacks in the book cause many controversies. Where the agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of whether Huckleberry Finn should be completely banned in schools. Whereas some people believe that keeping the book in school systems and developing a new curriculum solve the problem better, other people maintain that all schools must ban the book. The controversy over race, shown in Huckleberry Finn, takes place when Huck uses the “n-word” casually to talk about all blacks that he knows including Jim. The controversy over racism, also shown when the king, duke, and Huck go into a town and leave Jim and paint him blue so he looks ridiculous, may be argued because the king, duke, and Huck seem not to care about what they put Jim through. Some believe that when Jim stays at the Phelpses’ plantation in a cottage with many live animals, Mark Twain uses prejudices against blacks meaning they do not have many characteristics of humans because Jim live in a cottage and he can not think for himself because Huck thinks for him. When my class started reading Huckleberry Finn, having an introduction to the book helped while we tried to understand how Twain writes. We discussed racism in our classroom which made me learn more from the class altogether. Although I grant that reading Huckleberry Finn may cause controversy and some discomfort, I still maintain that students should carefully read Huckleberry Finn with extra discussion and introduction about Twain’s background, style of writing, and ideas about racism.
I believe that though Twain starts out the novel with some racist comments, by the end of the novel Twain proves to the audience that he is not racist. Franek and NiiLampti disagree with me in their article “Shoot the Author, Not the Reader” thinking that Twain never stops his racist comments and situations and “Twain’s other ‘hero’ ...[acts] so stupid, naive, and subservient” (21). Though this depiction of Jim may be the way that Twain characterizes Jim at the beginning of the novel, by the end of the novel the views of Jim change because he grows during the novel and Huck also grows by accepting Jim into the novel. Franek and NiiLampti believe that by having a black character described stereotypically, black students in the class will feel uncomfortable. But instead teachers should take advantage of the moment to discuss racism in the setting of the book. The turning point for Jim’s growth occurs when he helps the doctor by watching Tom so that the doctor can fetch more help. The doctor realizes that “he ain’t a bad nigger” (Twain 214). Jim, a noble friend to Tom, helps Tom and even risks his life in order to help out his friend.
Huckleberry Finn studied in classrooms, the classic must be examined carefully and taken within the context before the Civil War although Twain actually wrote the book after the Civil War. The use of the “n-word” must be discussed before students start to read the novel because of course if the students see the “n-word’ for the first time, the written word will shock them. Huck uses the “n-word” on many situations and he does not think twice about saying the “n-word.” Huck explains how everyone respects Jim by saying, “Niggers would come miles to hear Jim” but while Huck praises Jim, he still uses the “n-word” because back when Huckleberry Finn took place, although the “n-word” derogatorily explained blacks, the negative connotation associated with the “n-word” today had not surfaced yet, and so people uses the “n-word” more frequently (5). Teachers and school boards should not ban the book just because the use of the “n-word,” and Paula Leider agrees with me in her article “Does Huck Finn Belong in My Classroom?” by saying that “when Huck Finn is taught in my classroom... it must be explored with sensitivity” (50). If students start to understand the background of the book then the confusion about race will clear up; Leider explains that she likes to talk to her students about why Twain uses prejudices and what the problem is with them. Some of the same prejudices that were in place in the setting of Huckleberry Finn are still depicted today and the reasons for the prejudices stay the same. Twain has a firm attitude that depending on the situation the use of the “n-word” enhances the context and meaning. To make a more worthwhile class for students, teachers must make the students engage in conversation and provide the students with background information by starting the unit with a history introduction.
Along with considering the context of the novel, teachers must note that Twain strengthens the book by adding literary value. A lot of what Twain wrote about had to do with the life that he lived and dealt with; he wants to inform the reader by telling an intriguing story. Katherine Schulten agrees while explaining that Twain uses satire to criticize prejudices from after the Civil War. Twain uses the literary tool of satire to poke fun at certain groups of people by using irony, but his irony must be obvious so that his audience understands that he is not serious. Huck and Jim talk on the raft about French people and Jim says, “Is a frenchman a man?...Why don’t he talk like a man” (60). Using humor to poke fun at French people, Twain plays with French people because Twain did not like anyone foreign. In Huckleberry Finn the use of satire, a great literary tool that Twain uses, adds light fun and humor to the novel along with provoking thought. Huckleberry Finn has great literary value; the book can not be banned just because of racism. Marge Kraemer agrees in Schulten’s article “ ‘Huck Finn’: Born to Trouble”: “I’d rather change my approach to a novel than lose the right to teach it” because in her school system the teachers decided to make a curriculum that pleases both sides of the argument (59). I agree with the decision that the Cherry Hill school community made because by keeping the novel the students can still study the literary value of the book.
Students should read Huckleberry Finn in schools because the book has a great literary value and teachers can use the time reading to book to discuss racism. Suggestions to teachers may include: discussion of racism in the setting of Huck Finn, racism today, and how we deal with racism. To strengthen race relations, teachers need to convey to their students that they can speak up and disagree at anytime with what is said in the book because that makes the students more active readers. Ernest Hemingway says in his book Green Hills of Africa that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” I agree with his statement because the book leads all other books and if Huckleberry Finn is ban, future generations will not be able to study one of the greatest pieces of American literature.
Franek, Mark and Nyaka NiiLampti. "Shoot the Author, Not the Reader. " English Journal 94.6 (2005): 20-22. ProQuest Education Journals, ProQuest. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Green Hills of Africa.” New York: Scribner, 1935.
Leider, Paula. "Does Huck Finn Belong in My Classroom? Reflections of Curricular Choice, Multicultural Education, and Diversity. " Multicultural Education 13.4 (2006): 49-50. ProQuest Education Journals, ProQuest. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.
Schulten, Katherine. “‘Huck Finn’: Born to Trouble.” The English Journal 89.2 (Nov. 1999): 55-60. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dover. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1994.