Huck Finn

January 13, 2011
By , Virginia Beach, VA
The “N-word”, racism, and slavery, what do these all have in common? They are all controversies surrounding Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and are the reasons for Huckleberry Finn being banned from some high school English courses. The main argument consists of Mark Twain’s usage of the “N-word”, which he throws around quite loosely and supports the opposition when they argue he was racist. Supporters of Mark Twain, however, consider Huckleberry Finn as the “Great American Novel”. Ernest Hemingway, the author of Old Man and the Sea, calls Huckleberry Finn “the best book we’ve had”, although he feels Huckleberry Finn ends with Jim being taken from Huck and Tom Sawyer. Although I grant that Huckleberry Finn is a true American classic, I still maintain that Huckleberry Finn should not be mandated in high school curriculums unless proper earlier actions are taken.

Mark Franek and Nyaka NiiLampti support this position in their 2005 English Journal article “Shoot the Author, Not the Reader”. Within their article, they use the experiences of a black high school student to show how differently they are treated while reading Huckleberry Finn in class. For this reason, Franek and NiiLampti have chosen their position on the topic of whether Huckleberry Finn should be mandated in classes. Franek and NiiLampti explain the feelings of the student by saying “It is a journey you’ve been on many times before, though you’ve never read the text.” This pertains to the experience that Jim had while roaming down the Mississippi with Huck in which, if Mark Twain had written Huckleberry Finn historically accurate argue Franek and NiiLampti, Jim should have used any opportunity he had to kill Huck or runaway towards freedom. Especially due to all of the mean things Huck did to Jim, including getting a snake to bite Jim’s heal which Huck cannot confess to and says: “I warn't going to let Jim find out it was all my fault.” (71) This statement by Huck could be interpreted in a couple of different meanings, most people would interpret it as more of Twain’s racism, however, Huck’s statement could just simply be another example of his immaturity.
In another English Journal entry, Ann Lew opposes Franek and NiiLampti in her article “Teaching Huck Finn in a Multiethnic Classroom”. She feels that Huckleberry Finn should be taught in classrooms, just as long as the book is taught in the context of history instead of being taught the same way it has been for the past several years. Lew elaborates when saying that as long as Huckleberry Finn is taught in the correct context of history and the students are provided proper guidance while reading and interpreting Huckleberry Finn. Many other English teachers support this idea and believe it would greatly enhance the way student perceive and understand Huckleberry Finn. Ann Lew expresses her thoughts saying she would like to “be able to say that all of [her] students were enthralled with [their] reading of Huck Finn.” Lew demonstrates the thoughts of many English teachers who are hesitant to teach Huckleberry Finn in their classrooms, they do not mind teaching the book as long as they do not have to explain the history behind Huckleberry Finn. The teachers main concern is when they come across a quote such as: “why ain't this nigger put up at auction and sold?” (37) Huck asks this question, which poses the question ‘Why does Huck use the “N-word” all the time?’ for the teacher of the book to answer. Questions such as this are difficult to explain as a teacher especially when the kids asking the question do not understand or have not been taught about slavery and the experiences of slaves.
In the 2006 Multicultural Education article “Does Huck Finn Belong in My Classroom? Reflections of Curricular Choice, Multicultural Education, and Diversity” Paula Leider expresses her feelings concerning the teaching of Huckleberry Finn in high school classrooms. Leider’s English department has already removed Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum and replaced Huckleberry Finn with another book on slavery, Frederick Douglass’s A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. She recalls her first reaction was a joyous one knowing that she would not have to feel the uneasiness while teaching Huckleberry Finn or having to explain Twain’s racism. One of the more difficult events to explain is when Huck tries to decide whether or not to send a letter to Miss Watson, Jim’s owner, telling her where to find Jim. Huck then decides to tear up the letter saying "All right, then, I'll go to hell" (284), showing that he feels that if he does not turn in Jim, he will go to hell as a result. An English teacher would probably have a difficult time explaining Huck’s thinking to a multiethnic classroom.





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