Criticism of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Past and Present
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the all-time most controversial American novels. Marks Twain’s masterpiece, narrated by a rebellious boy who rafts down the Mississippi river with a runaway slave, has received a wide variety of kudos and criticism since it first appeared in 1885. While it is still applauded for its childlike imagination and realistic use of dialogue, the criticisms of Huck Finn have undergone a drastic shift.
Upon its initial release, Huck Finn was blasted by some critics for indecency. They argued that Twain’s story, like dime novels, would influence young readers to forbid their parents and teachers just as Huck does Miss Watson. The city of Concord, RI was perhaps the most stringent in its reaction to Huck Finn, banning the book completely from library shelves. In a telling March 18, 1885 article, the New York Herald reported on this censorship. The reasons for the banning, provided by the Concord Library Committee, include opinions that the book is “absolutely immoral in its tone” and that “it seems to contain but very little humor.” They go on to criticize “the systematic use of bad grammar and an employment of inelegant expressions.” The Herald’s one-sided report proves that the Concord librarians weren’t Huck Finn’s only critics. This newspaper, in neglecting to print positive reviews, shows its approval of the Concord banning.
Other newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, spoke out in support of Twain. On March 29, 1885, the Chronicle printed an article denouncing the banning in Concord, calling the actions “absurd.” This article accuses the librarian censors of not examining in depth the extent to which Twain’s novel is a “remarkably careful sketch of life along the Mississippi river forty years ago.” The Chronicle goes on to praise Twain’s use of dialect and humor which admittedly...