Floating Away from Racism
Many say it’s a classic, that it’s the root of all American literature. Others call it racist and unfit for their child to read. Such connotations of Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, exemplify the controversy at hand: whether or not schools should ban the book. The racial stereotypes present in the novel along with the constant use of the “n” word have caused critics and parents to question its morality. Should students be exposed to the truths of the old south? To the way many of our grandparents used to think and act? To move forward, we must learn from our past, and read Twain’s “masterpiece” between the lines, not word for word. The “pure American” (Will 92) voice of Huck tells a story embedded with important lessons and deserves to be heard just as much as the voice of Scout or Nick Carraway.
Throughout the novel, Twain perfects the old-southern Missouri dialect and keeps Huck’s voice standard of the time period. He used a non-romantic approach and believed that: “plain American speech, the dumb American demotic, was an instrument flexible and rich enough for a major moral literature” (Gopnik 1). The crude vernacular Twain used accurately depicts a time of injustice and aggression towards blacks, making the novel appear “racist” through racial slurs and commentary. Each year we learn about white aggression, slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and more. We read textbooks and watch videos about our horrific past, but we don’t really know what went on. Through literature, we can examine it further. Twain allows us to experience the old south with Huck and hear his inner thoughts that paralleled the thoughts of many whites at the time. Twain uses a colloquial tone to grab our attention and invite us on Huck’s journey. As we glide down the river with Jim and Huck, we get the truth, not just factual commentary that history textbooks provide us with.
As the story progresses, Huck’s moral compass straightens. Though he is “reared in racism” (Will 92), he doesn’t allow Jim’s skin-tone to break their brother-like bond. Huck is the novel’s hero, taking risks for Jim from the day they met on the island, although people would call him a “low-life abolitionist” (Twain 52). The boys are in it together, and Twain does this on purpose. George F. Will explains, “you knew which side Twain was on when Huck shouted to Jim, ‘They’re after us!” (Will 1). The word us signifies that Jim’s quest for freedom is now Huck’s quest as well. It also shows that Huck believes him and Jim to be equals which “compresses the exhilarating power of Huck’s instinctive humanity” (293).
Huck’s true heroism takes form when he listens “to his sound heart rather than his deformed conscience. Twain thought a conscience is a social product, as bad as society” (Will 92). Huck knew how wrong it was to help Jim, but it didn’t stop him from doing it. He struggles throughout the novel with what is right and wrong because “he knows how he...