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Racism In The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn By Mark Twain

4472 words - 18 pages

Famed novelist Ernest Hemingway believed that “[a]ll modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn…the best book we’ve had.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic American tale with all the essentials of a story that feeds our imagination. On the surface, the novel appears to be a very unpretentious tale of adventure, and self-discovery that has earned a place on every high school required reading list. However, if the story is closely examined, it takes on darker undertones of a racist culture replete with derogatory language and glimpses into the ugliness and turmoil that followed in the years immediately after the Civil War, and that still exist today. Controversial and racist are two words commonly used to describe Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It is considered to be the quintessential American novel, yet it remains in the middle of a debate over whether or not it should be taught in schools.
The first point of the novel from which most controversy stems is the inclusion of the word “nigger”. The inclusion of the word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is unnecessary and offensive. Initially, critics of the novel disliked Twain’s use of vernacular because it was “vulgar and unpleasant”, disturbing genteel white Americans, not because the word “nigger” was found to be offensive (Kaye 3). Fostering an uncomfortable atmosphere for black students, critics believe that primarily white educators allow the novel because they prefer Twain’s depiction of subservient blacks (Kaye 4). Due to the prolific use of the “n-word” throughout the novel, the NAACP believes the story causes damage to black students’ self-esteem (Powell 3). Critics argue Twain’s use of a white master’s voice causes blacks to feel stupid and unable to understand the novel as whites do (Michelson 148). As scholar Julius Lester observed, the novel is historically inaccurate and portrays black in an unflattering manner (Lester 201).
In addition to using derogatory terms, the character of Jim is a mere caricature of a slave and an inaccurate portrayal of African Americans. Jim, along with every other black slave in the novel, is a docile, subservient being that is completely passive. Critic Julius Lester believes that all of the black characters are displayed in this light because this is the only type of black character that whites like (Lester 203). Woodard and McCann concur with this idea, stating that Jim’s minstrel characterization does not allow us to see beyond it to notice and appreciate his qualities of humanity (Woodard & McCann 142). Any noble qualities that we may have seen develop in Jim throughout the novel are completely overshadowed by then ending in which Jim is reduced to a flat, stereotypical stage-Negro (Graff & Phelan 279). At the middle of the novel, Jim expresses the desire to free his family from slavery. However, at the end of the novel Jim forgets completely about his wife...

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