The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered by many to be the greatest American novel ever written. Despite this praise, Mark Twain’s masterpiece has never been without criticism. Upon its inception it was blasted for being indecent literature for young readers because of its lack of morals and contempt for conformity. Modern indignation toward Huck Finn arises from its racist undertones, most notably Twain’s treatment of the character Jim. As is the case with many canonized yet controversial books, the biggest conflict revolves around the inclusion of Huck Finn on required reading lists of public schools throughout the country.
In general, the mostly African-American critics consider Twain himself to be racist and Huck Finn simply reflects this. Blacks, especially Jim, are portrayed as fools and used as comedic fodder to bolster feelings of white superiority in Twain’s southern audience. Although Jim’s positive qualities are presented in certain parts of the novel, they are overshadowed by his superstitious folly which Twain returns to in the later chapters. The fact that Huck’s narration is intentionally skewed by the innocence and ignorance of an adolescent is little consolation to critics who feel that Twain has committed gross immorality. Also, the incessant use of the epithet “nigger” has been deemed excessive. Despite these condemnations though even the staunchest opponents of Twain find certain redeeming qualities that make it hard to promote all out censorship.
One of the most stringent dissenters of Huck Finn is Julius Lester, Newberry Award winning author of the children’s book To Be a Slave. Lester argues that one of the primary concerns of lit...
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...hite man. This pseudo-parenthood relieves Huck of any lifelong responsibilities to Jim and also allows Twain to eventually separate the two without any emotional repercussions. In short, they lack a true familial bond implicating a tragedy of sadness at the core of their relationship which is possibly due to Huck’s insatiable racism.
Ultimately, both Henry and Morrison approve the teaching of Huck Finn under the conditions of mature students and cautious, open-minded teachers. The problems in Twain’s novel may never be fully explained but an honest and careful consideration of the issues in Huck Finn should contribute positively to the growing awareness of American race relations.
Clemens, Samuel. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter, et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Lexington: Heath, 1994.
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