Mark Twain A Racist? Absolutely Not!

1604 words - 6 pages

Celebrating its 135th anniversary this year, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic of American literature and is read by millions across the nation every year. However, many claim that the book promotes and endorses the heinous act of racism. In their attacks on the classic, many of the book’s critics employ evidence such as the use of the n-word 211 times (Powers, 2010) and the novel’s repeated inferior depiction of African-Americans. Many supporters of the novel, though, hail it for being so controversial. They claim that the dialogue started when discussing the book is a great chance for students to broaden their views on many controversial topics. As Harris puts it (2000), "If it isn't a dangerous book, there really is no reason for anybody to read it or teach it". Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn unquestionably does not promote racism, and actually serves to question the very idea of racism itself, as shown by Twain’s use of realism, the use of a child narrator, and the author’s deliberate intention to criticize the act of slavery and racism.
Throughout Huck Finn, Mark Twain employs realism to accurately portray life along the antebellum Mississippi River. Merriam-Webster defines realism as “the theory or practice of fidelity in art and literature to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization.” Throughout the novel, Twain uses realism to show readers how life was and how blacks were treated. Many critics of the book criticize the language used in the book. As Powers puts it (2010), “The controversy exploded in 1957, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People condemned its 211 uses of the n-word, the infamous epithet for African slaves and their descendants.” However, as realism is literature looking through a historical lens, Twain is obviously showing exactly what the dialect of that time period was. If the novel didn’t start with some historical backdrop and factual accuracy, the rest of Huck could easily be dismissed as pure fiction. As Harris (2000) writes, “removing the book from high school classrooms would only reinforce the stigma attached to the [n-word.] "It would seem to me to put it on the shelf and restrict it to graduate students would remystify its language, its words, sort of remystify the 'n' word," he said. "It just seems to me the more we can use it, the more we can talk to each other about what it means, the less mystical power the word has." Obviously, the steps taken by educators to teach students about the history of the word and the sensitivity that it should be given provide an excellent opportunity for educators to teach exactly why this word should not be used. Another argument against the realist credibility of the book is the fact that Huck and Jim could easily have crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, a free state, instead of sailing all the way down the river to Cairo. However, if this had been the storyline...

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