Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

January 13, 2011
By Tim Mulligan BRONZE, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Tim Mulligan BRONZE, Virginia Beach, Virginia
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

What is a classic? A classic is typically defined as “an author or a literary work of the first rank, esp. one of demonstrably enduring quality.” Is the degradation of people, the use of offensive language, and a work which recounts the darkest times in man’s history characteristic of a classic? Today Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is required reading in 70% of public high schools, although the teaching of the novel in schools and even its appearance in public libraries has become extremely controversial. There are those that believe that it is necessary for students in English class to feel uncomfortable in order to challenge the established way of thinking and that Huckleberry Finn develops students’ abilities to analyze literature regarding racism. Others argue that the novel holds little value and that reading other books would benefit students more. Some go as far as to label the text a racist novel that is extremely degrading to African Americans. The author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, often appears to play both sides. Those who believe the novel is racist point out Huck’s treatment of Jim as evidence for their stance, claiming that Huck is only 13 and acts as Jim’s, who is a much older, superior. They also assert that Jim’s speech and demeanor make him appear ignorant and completely submissive to the will of others. Yet, those who assert that the novel is not a racist text use the fact that Jim’s bounty is much larger than that on Huck’s father. They suggest that if the novel was racist why would Mark Twain make a black man worth more than a white man? When I read the novel in English class I did not view it as offensive, but I was also not reading the text through the eyes of an African American. Therefore, I believe that Adventure of Huckleberry Finn should be available in all libraries but should not be required reading in any school because the language of the text is offensive to African Americans, it is degrading for African Americans to relate to Jim, and African American students often feel very uncomfortable when they are a small minority in a predominantly white class.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be required reading in any school because the text is offensive to African Americans. Throughout the story Mark Twain refers to the word “nigger” approximately every page in the book, a word extremely offensive to African Americans. According to Dawn Sova’s article entitled “Censorship History of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” she explains that due to the slur “nigger” many complaints have come from “well-educated, middle-class, African-American parents” (Sova 1) attempting to shelter their children from the insulting reference. It is difficult for white individuals to understand the significance of the word “nigger” but language can be very powerful in ways that not everyone can always understand. The real problem is not that offensive language exists; it is that these children are being force to read it. Also, regardless of the context of the time in which the story is written, the demeanor and speech of Jim is humiliating to African Americans. As Jim and Huck discuss their recent string of good luck Jim utters, “Never you mind, honey, never you mind. Don’t you git too peart. It’s a-comin” (Twain 39). Throughout the novel Jim’s speech makes him out to be the stereotypical southern, ignorant, black slave. How would an African American student feel after reading this? I think I would feel embarrassed and confused. Confused as to why my class has never read any novel that degrades white students and how reading this passage could make me feel anything but humiliated. The old rhyme that “sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you” is misleading. It misleads you into thinking that stones are powerful and words are not when in fact words are the most powerful tool any human has.
Adventures of huckleberry Finn should not be required reading in any school because it is degrading for African American students to relate to Jim. In Mark Franek and Nyaka NiiLampi’s article entitled “Shoot the Author, Not the Reader” they explain that from the moment you start reading the novel the white students immediately side with Huck because he is smart, witty, and white. Yet the African American students have a dilemma: “They don’t side so easily with Huck. Jim, on the other hand-Twain’s other ‘hero’-shares their skin color but he’s so stupid, naïve, and subservient that they can’t believe that their school actually wants them to keep reading” (Franek and NiiLampi 1). The way Huck Finn divides a class of students straight down the color of their skin is simply wrong. Students are being forced to read a text that places the white half of the class above the black half of the class. It is human nature to relate to characters in a story you read, but it is not fair to place students in this position.
Finally, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be required reading in any school because African American students often feel very uncomfortable when they are a small minority in a predominantly white class. In Allen Carry-Webb and Marylee Hengstebeck’s article entitled “Racism and Huckleberry Finn: Censorship, dialogue, and change” they recount that when talking to black students about their experiences reading the novel in primarily white classrooms “they resented being turned to as experts by their white teachers, and they were uncomfortable being stared at by their fellow students”(Cary-Webb and Hengstebeck 5). As a black student, reading Huck Finn in a predominately white class makes for an uncomfortable situation in which black students feel they cannot express their feelings and reactions regarding the book. In English classrooms one of the most important aspects is group participation and open discussion. Any novel that prohibits this free exchange of thoughts and emotions is simply not fit for a classroom.

The solution to all the controversy is free will. I strongly believe that Huck Finn is an important part of literature history and should remain in all libraries and book stores for people to purchase and enjoy. The problem comes when people lose the free will aspect. The novel is clearly very offensive to many African Americans and it is no person or school’s place to force anyone to read it. As for the matter of class discussion of the novel, well there is no issue. If students are given the option to read or not to read the novel then anyone discussing the book will be doing it of his or her own will. Words are powerful. They can hurt and aid. They can comfort and disturb. Give the students the right to choose which words they want to read.

The author's comments:
I wrote this article after reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in my English class.

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