Why We SHould Read The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been banned in many different schools across the country. The book has been called “offensive and uncomfortable”, and many parents have argued about whether its academic significance outweighs these negative aspects – and whether or not it has an academic significance at all. However, it is the controversial and “offensive” aspects of the book that make it so significant; the racist language it is saturated in shows how deeply entrenched slavery and white supremacy were in the South. Moreover, the tone Twain uses is intended to make his readers feel uncomfortable so that they will develop a better understanding of just how normalized and deep-rooted racism was during the 19th century and also to make them consider what racism is like in the time that they are reading it in.

Twain’s use of “offensive” language highlights the flaws in American culture during the time Huckleberry Finn takes place in as well as the present day. It shows that American culture was founded upon the white supremacy that can still be seen in today’s culture. Huck, for example, still refers to Jim as a “runaway nigger” even after expressing extensive care and worry toward him and the doctor’s treatment of him (Twain 289), which displays how deeply racism has been ingrained into his behavior and thought process. It can be inferred that if someone as young as Huck is thinking about colored people in this way, then most adults are thinking and acting similarly, if not more extremely. Furthermore, Twain is telling his readers that racism is so embedded into American culture that it’ll take much more than bonding over a life or death experience to eradicate it from a single individual’s brain, which would make it nearly impossible to remove from American culture completely. Showing the extent of racism during this time period without using offensive language would be difficult, especially if it’s written in a narrative like Huckleberry Finn. Critic Toni Morrison discusses Twain’s frequent use of the word “nigger” in her essay “This Amazing, Troubling Book”. She explains that censorship of this book because of his use of this word is “designed to appease adults rather than educate children.” She continues to explain that a serious educational discussion of this word would have benefitted her class when she was in high school (Morrison 386). When considering how big a problem bullying has become and the increased use of this word in recent time – mainly due to the rise of rap music – discussion of this word would be beneficial to any modern student. The word has become such an issue because people are too afraid and uncomfortable to discuss it, yet an intellectual discussion of the word within classrooms would make students more aware of the word’s implications and historical context.

Not only does Huckleberry Finn help us identify the flaws in modern American culture, it is also key in understanding the time period it was written and takes place in . It represents a popular, yet valuable, narrative and train of thought during the time that lead up to the Civil War, especially in the South. During this period, it was wired into whites’ brains that they are superior to blacks, which can be seen in Huck’s personal narrative in the book whenever he is thinking about and referring to Jim. His view as a white southerner contributes a clearer understanding of how blacks were seen and treated by whites – not just by how Jim is treated by Huck, but also by other characters’, such as Huck’s dad and Tom Sawyer, treatment of Jim. Ishmael Reed uses a prime example of this in his essay “Mark Twain’s Hairball” when describing Huck’s father’s white supremacism by saying that he “doesn’t want blacks to appear to be ‘better’n’ what they are”, thus “justifying” the lynching of successful black people. His narrative also shows that white citizens are exposed to white supremacy at a very young age, thus teaching them to grow up believing that racism is normal and acceptable. Additionally, Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn during and after the Reconstruction Era, and many events and analogies can be seen in the book that mirror or represent the historical context of Twain’s time. One of the most important of these analogies is the metaphor of the Ohio River. When Jim and Huck decide not to take the journey down the Ohio River, it is meant to represent the US government’s decision not to continue to pursue a human rights initiative and thus an interracial democracy. Twain is disappointed in the US for not pursuing this route, so he sets up this metaphor to make the reader feel the same way toward Huck and Jim and the opportunity that the Ohio River presents for them.

Huckleberry Finn provides insight on current flaws in American culture, a common narrative from the time period it takes place in, and a look at American identity throughout its history and in its present. These are all key concepts to any history class, but especially to the course every junior at NCSSM takes: American Studies. In the NCSSM course catalog, American Studies’ course description says that “In examining the American experience from multiple perspectives, students develop a more nuanced sense of what America is and what it means to be an American.” Huckleberry Finn presents a valuable American experience that, through analysis, provides readers with an understanding of America and its culture in historical and modern context, which is exactly what is described in the quote from the course description. Twain uses “offensive and uncomfortable” language to provide this valuable narrative of an American experience. Though some readers may misunderstand the satire or diction that Twain uses in his writing, this should not prevent students from reading and interpreting the book in a historical and cultural context.

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