Racism In Huck Finn

Powerful Essays
Racism in Huck Finn

Ever since it was written, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has been a novel

that many people have found disturbing. Although some argue that the novel is

extremely racist, careful reading will prove just the opposite. In recent years

especially, there has been an increasing debate over what some will call the

racist ideas in the novel. In some cases the novel has even been banned by

public school systems and censored by public libraries. The basis for the debate

is how Jim, a black slave and one of the main characters, is depicted. However,

if one was to look at the underlying themes in the novel, they would realize that

it is not racist and could even be considered an anti - slavery novel.

The most popular problem people have with this book is the use of the word

“nigger”. It must be remebered that during this time period it was not considered

much of an insullt. You can also notice in the book it was not meant offensively by

Huck, or taken offensively by Jim. This is what Stephan Shepard had to say about the

banning of the book and the use of the word “nigger”:

In addition to removing Mark Twain's novel from the

required reading list, the district decided to use a

censored version of the novel on its optional list.

Admittedly, the censorship is minor the infamous

"n-word" is deleted throughout the novel - however,

it is not only a dishonest alteration of Twain's craft, it

is also an unfair attempt to enforce the tastes of a few

upon all students in the district. (Shepard 1)

Also a column in The New York Times pointed out, "Huckleberry Finn is in constant

trouble with teachers, librarians and parents because of its iterations of “nigger”, a

word that has a preemptive force today that it did not have in Huck Finn's Mississippi

Valley of the 1840s" (Ritter 2).

Another aspect of the novel that some consider racist is the description of

Jim. The first time the reader meets Jim, a very negative description is given. It

is said that Jim is illiterate, childlike, not very bright and extremely superstitious.

However, it is important not to lose sight of who is giving this description.

Although Huck is not exactly a racist ...

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Twain meant no disrespect to black people in his novel Huckleberry Finn. It can even

be said that this book was anti - slavery and did more disrespect to whites than


Works Cited

Allen, Micheal. Classic Literary Criticisms. New York: Oxford University Press. 1981

Baldanza, Frank. Mark Twain. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1961.

Conn, Peter. Literature in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Fishkin, Shelley F., Was Huck Black? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993),


Marx, Leo, "Huck at 100," The Nation, Aug. 31, 1985.

Nichols, Timothy. Classic Criticism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1976

Ritter, Frank. “Polically Correct”. Op - ed page, Tennessean Times. September

18th 1996.

Shepherd, Stephen (Oak Leaf Staff Writer) “Was Mark Twain Racist?”. New York:

Oxford university Press. 1983

Smiley, Jane, "Say It Ain't So, Huck," Harper's, January 1996.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn The Norton Anthology of American

Literature_. 2 vols. Ed. Nina Baym, et al. 4th. ed. New York: Norton, 1994. 29-214.

Wallace John H, The Case Against Huck Finn
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