Black Humanity in Huckleberry Finn

Powerful Essays
Black Humanity in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Lauded by literary critics, writers and the general reading public, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn commands one of the highest positions in the canon of American literature. On an international level, it is “a fixture among the classics of world literature” (Kaplan 352). It “is a staple from junior high . . . to graduate school” and “is second only to Shakespeare in the frequency with which it appears in the classroom . . . ” (Carey-Webb 22). During the push for school desegregation in the 1950s, however, many parents raised serious objections to the teaching of this text. These objections centered around Twain's negative characterization of Jim and his extensive use of the term “nigger” throughout the text. Many people felt this characterization, along with the most powerful racial epithet in the English language, were insensitive to African Americn heritage and personally offensive in racially mixed classrooms.

Twain's stereotypical depiction of Jim originates from traditions of his time: “Writing at a time when the blackfaced minstrel was still popular, and shortly after a war which left even the abolitionists weary of those problems associated with the Negro, Twain fitted Jim into the outlines of the minstrel tradition . . . ” (Ellison 421-22). Minstrel shows, first appearing in the 1840s, were theatrical productions typically performed by white actors who blackened their faces with greasepaint and wore white gloves “to render comic burlesques of African American speech and manners” (Carey-Webb 24). The function of the minstrel mask, the “black-faced figure of white fun,” was “to veil the humanity of Negroes thus reduced to a si...

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Hoffman, Daniel. “Black Magic--and White--in Huckleberry Finn.” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Sources Criticism. Ed. Sculley Bradley, et al. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1977. 423-436.

Jones, Rhett S. “Nigger and Knowledge. White Double-Consciousness in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Satire or Evasion? Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Ed. James Leonard, et al. Durham: Duke UP, 1992. 173-194.

Kaplan, Justin. “Born to Trouble: One Hundred Years of Huckleberry Finn.” Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Eds. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: St. Martin’s, 1995. 348-359.

MacLeod, Christine. “Telling the Truth in a Tight Place: Huckleberry Finn and the Reconstruction Era.” The Southern Quarterly 34 (Fall 1995): 5-16.
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