African-Americans and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn
In the century since the publication of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, it has remained one of the most talked about books in American literature. This distinction seems to be due primarily to the fact that, while the book has always been popular among Americans, Americans, of all types, continue to find different ways to be offended by it. It has been described as everything from anti-southern to anti-black, and has been called everything from a piece of trash to a national treasure. Perhaps no other American book could claim such an abundance of conflicting interpretations.
This essay will seek to explore and explain the history of one of the major controversies surrounding the book, and the importance that that history may have had for modern readings of the novel.
Two Different Novels to Two Different Groups of Americans
As long as Huck Finn has existed, African-Americans have had a unique perspective on the novel. This project will argue that this unique perspective has its roots in the early interpretation of the novel by African-Americans, and that this perspective deserves recognition for finding deeper meaning in Huck Finn, long before it was accepted to do so. To begin, it is important to first distinguish between white interpretation of the novel and black interpretation of it.
Although Huckleberry Finn was published long after the Civil War, racial prejudice and injustice still remained in all aspects of American life. As a result, African-Americans were largely excluded from American literary institutions like universities and publishing companies. Popular newspapers, magazines, and books were, for the most part, exclusively for and by white Americans. Although African-American literature was developing steadily at the same time, black American opinion was virtually ignored by the literary community. There existed in America two very distinct and isolated racial spheres—one white and one black. Therefore, it can be assumed that the original reviews of Huck Finn in popular American newspapers and magazines were all representative of the white perspective of the novel. Even today, when contemporary reception of the novel is talked about, black opinion is often ignored, even though blacks were a major part of the subject matter of the novel and blacks had, what I think, was a unique and important perspective of the novel. Examining the two perspectives will demonstrate their differences.
White Perspective of Huck Finn in the Media
After Huckleberry Finn’s initial publication in America in 1884 it caused a sensation in the media. Although it was very popular, many critics charged that its subject matter was crude and obscene. Also, at least one scandal surrounded and added to the controversy of the content of the noveli[i].
In major American magazines and newspapers the reviews were, at best,...