Essay Preview: Huckleberry Finn
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Huckleberry Finn may be the most exalted single work of American literature. Praised by our best known critics and writers, the novel is enshrined at the center of the American literature curriculum. According to Arthur Applebee the work is second only to Shakespeare in the frequency it appears in the classroom and is required in 70% of public high schools and 76% of parochial high schools. The most taught novel, the most taught long work, and the most taught piece of American literature, Huckleberry Finn is a staple from junior high (where eleven chapters are included in the Junior Great Books program) to graduate school. Written in a now vanished dialect, told from the point of view of a runaway fourteen-year-old, the novel conglomerates melodramatic boyhood adventure, farcical low comedy, and pointed social satire. Yet at its center is a relationship between a white boy and an escaped slave, an association freighted with the tragedy and the possibility of American history. Despite a social order set against interracial communication and respect, Huck develops a comradeship with Jim for which he is willingagainst all he has been taughtto risk his soul.
Despite the novels sanctified place and overtly anti-racist message, since school desegregation in the 1950s, black Americans have raised objections to Huckleberry Finn and its effect on their children. Linking their complaints with the efforts of other groups to influence the curriculum, we English teachers have seen the issue as one of censorship, defending the novel and our right to teach it. In so doing we have been properly concerned: the freedom of English teachers to design and implement curriculum must be protected as censorship undermines the creation of an informed citizenry able to make critical judgments between competing ideas. Yet, considering the objections to Huckleberry Finn only in terms of freedom and censorship doesnt resolve