Essay Preview: Huckleberry Finn
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“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
Is Huck Finn a masterpiece or an insult? That is the question asked by many parents, teachers, and scholars. When “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was first published, it seemed doomed from the start. With a hero who lies, steals, and uses rough language, parents thought “Huck Finn,” as it is commonly called, would corrupt young children. Little did they know that it would be a book that would both revolutionize American literature and be at the center of literary debate (Napierkowski). Many people regard “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as one of the greatest novels in American literature; others think it celebrates racism and should be banned from our schools.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” written by Mark Twain and originally published in 1884, is the story of an interracial friendship between Huck and Jim. Huck, a young white male, was on the run, making his get-away down the Mississippi River, away from the life he lived with an abusive father. Jim, an adult black male, was an escaped slave, making the same journey on his way to freedom. Together the pair formed a unique friendship as they experienced adventures on their travels along the Mississippi River. The story of their adventures was written in the language of the time, meaning, among other things that Jim is regularly referred to as “Nigger Jim.” It is the use of such “language of the time,” specifically the use of the word “nigger,” that has caused “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to be one of the ten most banned books in America (Alward). Ironically, however, it wasnt the language that first led to Huck Finn being banned in Concord, Massachusetts, only a year after the book was published. It was originally banned because the book was thought to be “more geared towards slums, rather than intelligent people” (Walsh).
Censorship is justified for many reasons, and has existed for as long as people have been writing books. “In ancient times, when hand-scribed books existed in only one or few copies, destroying them guaranteed that no one would ever read them” (Mullally). The invention of the printing press, however, complicated censorship efforts. Smashing a few stone tablets no longer brought a books existence to an end. More formalized “book banning” had to come about; this took place mostly in libraries and public schools. In 1982, however, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico that “if a book is to be removed, an inquiry must be made as to the motivation and intention of the party calling for its removal. If the partys intention is to deny students access to ideas with which the party disagrees, it is a violation of the First Amendment” (Mullally). Censorship was no longer as easy as it once was.
Despite the passing of time, and the rulings of the court, the debate over Huck Finn still rages. Most of the books attackers focus on the use of “the N-word.” They ask, “How can you ask kids to go home and read the word nigger 200-something times in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and then except kids to come back to school and not use the word?” (Walsh). They argue “There are a lot better ways to combat racism and all than to use every racially offensive word 6 thousand times in a novel” (Yee). Others suggest that the reason they want Huck Finn banned is because of what they perceive as the degrading depiction of the runaway slave Jim, who “is made to look, act, and sound stupid” (Walsh). It is even stated that “most parents, teachers, administrators would agree that censorship is necessary to maintain a good environment for learning,” citing Nazi hate propaganda as an example and then making a correlation to Twains “racist” language.
Supporters of Twains work come with many weapons of their own to defend Huck Finn. They make the point that while reading the book, you must remember that Mark Twain was not a racist; he rarely spoke or wrote of race, but when he did it was generally more favorable to blacks than whites. “You must understand what Twain was trying to do with his