What’s the Big Deal with the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain envisioned a book that was to be taken as a satire (Hearn on Twain 355). Huckleberry Finn was not intended to be judged by its grammatical content but instead stir up unjust social norms of the post-civil war era (Arac 1). The novel itself serves to inform the reader of a small account of what slavery was like prior to the Civil War and how the treatment of the freed slaves did not change after it was published in 1884 (Chwast 1).

When it was published Huckleberry Finn was so poorly accepted, that even the public library in Concord, Ma banned the novel due to its immorality, and vulgar use of the English language (Idol-Kaplan 11). Another vulgarity was felt in 1999, when the NAACP Pennsylvania chapter filed a motion demanding that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn be eliminated from the required reading in the local school districts (Hentoff 1). The chapter also stated that tax money should not be used to perpetuate a negative African American stereotype as it does with Jim the slave (Hentoff 1).

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Huckleberry Finn continues to be a beacon for white society to use the “N” word because Finn has been projected to an idol status over the past one hundred years (Arac 1). Many have said that Huck Finn encourage young adults as young as fourteen (the same age as Huck was in the book) to think critically about the abolitionist undertones that Mark Twain conceptualized while writing the novel (Hentoff 1). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about a young boy’s adventure with the prejudices of the time.

With the help of a slave named Jim, both attempt to float to on the Mississippi River that ran south to freedom in the northern states. With murders, abuse, and civilization; Huck must overcome inner turmoil he feels about helping a runaway slave, and the bigger idea that slavery itself is wrong. Mark Twain has put the satire in satirical irony by including so many examples that the novel is “bursting as the seam”. Twain satirizes religion with Huck and Jim’s litany of superstitions (Chapter IV).

Twain satirizes greed; Huck’s pap returns, only for the sole purpose of trying to take Huck’s new found wealth (Chapter V). Twain pokes fun at ‘sivilization’ throughout: Huck can’t bear to return to the widow’s house to wear those uncomfortable clothes and fussing’ of supper (Chapter I & II). The purpose for Mark Twain’s use of satirical irony is lost in the mind of a thirteen or fourteen year old which the novel was written for this age group (Hentoff 2). Next, Jim tells Huck he’s going to help his wife and kids escape, causing Huck to comment, “I was so sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him. (Situational irony), meaning that Jim has a plan and Huck is unsure of its success (Chapter VIII). Huck consistently comments on how doing right makes him feel bad, mainly because what he’s been taught as right is wrong. (Situational irony and dramatic irony Chapter VI, VII, IX, XI, XVI). The novel has been compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the sense that it was produced to ignite society to see that the newly freed slaves as human beings, not the sub humans the white culture depicted (Chwast 2). The novel does not help to explain the harsh realities that slavery invoked.

Jim is portrayed as an ignorant man, who deserted his family in pursuit of his freedom, only to be used as a pawn in Huckleberry’s and Tom Sawyer’s playtime (Lester 1). Due to the lack of reality within the novel, the reader cannot see Jim as the man that he is only the boy that Mark Twain portrayed him as (Lester 1). Jim is crucial to the message of Huckleberry Finn because he is a direct representation of how the white society saw slaves (Gregory 50). The other characters are simply just an “embodiment of the world” (Gregory 50).

Then later on in the novel, Jim has become like a surrogate father figure to Huck; yet Huck is torn between what he has been told is someone’s “property” is now a person Huck wants to protect, because Jim is now his friend (Hearn 355). Great debate has been whether or not Huck Finn should be censored to remove the 200 “n” word references, remove the racist comments against African Americans, or just remove the read entirely (Hentoff 1). One particular scene in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn made a lasting impression and brought up great debate on its content (Hearn 353).

Where Huck has come to rescue Jim and Aunt Sally was holding Jim captive because he was considered a runaway. Huck does not correct Aunt Sally’s error, but instead plays along that he is indeed Tom Sawyer. Long story short, Tom is days late for his arrival and Aunt Sally asks what took Tom (Huck) so long to get to the farm. Huck replies that a cylinder head exploded off the steamboat, to which Aunt Sally asks if anyone was hurt. This prompts Huck to reply, “No’m. Killed a slave. ” Aunt Sally replies with no hesitancy, “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt. ” (Twain cited by Hearn 352).

Aunt Sally’s insensitive comment has enraged so many people that it could be considered racist no matter what the color of the skin (Hearn 353). Aunt Sally is considered a “good Christian woman” (Hearn 353). For even the clergy who preached the word of God, said that slaves were God’s “particular pet” (Hearn 353). It has been said that a slave should be thankful night and day for the gifts of slavery that God has given them (Hearn 353). Christians as a whole considered the slaves subhuman; therefore they were not given the compassion that was deserving of real people (Hearn 353).

The comedy of the entire scene is supposed to be Twain’s portrait of Aunt Sally and how ignorant she is in her view of basic humanity (Hearn 355). In 1890 Mark Twain wrote a brief a memoir of his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens; in this excerpt he describes how his mother had similar views as those of Aunt Sally (Hearn 353). As Mark Twain said correctly, “She was a woman who trusted the good book, The Bible, for she had never heard any pulpit speak against slavery, but instead her ears were familiar with the defense to keep slavery,” even The Bible texts was said to approve (Twain cited by Hearn 353). Mrs.

Clemens was said to say that she would not try to dispute the Bible, for she “stood by the good and the holy” (Twain cited by Hearn 353). The Bible said that slavery was “right, righteous, and sacred” (Twain cited by Hearn 353). Mark Twain also describes a personal account in which a slave is killed in broad daylight by his master for supposedly moving “awkwardly” (Twain cited by Hearn 354). The master was never held accountable for the murder of an innocent man (Twain cited by Hearn 354). Instead the community of Hannibal, Missouri felt sorry for the master’s loss of property (Twain cited by Hearn 354).

The basic disregard for a human life is appalling, Twain recalled that he knew that slave owner had the “right” to kill the slave if he wanted to; but Twain considered that murder a “pitiful thing, and somehow seemed wrong” (Twain cited by Hearn 354). These comments by Mark Twain led to some people believing that he was for the enslavement of blacks, when actually he was a closet abolitionist (Hearn 354). True to Sam Clemens’s writing style, he wrote an opinion article in response to a recent lynching of an innocent black man (Hearn 354). Instead of taking claim to his statements, Twain writes anonymously (Hearn 354).

This to some can be taken as Twain making a claim, but not having the guts to stand up and claim statements as his (Twain cited by Hearn 354). Back to Aunt Sally’s colorful remark; the conversation that Aunt Sally is having with Tom (Huck) is supposed to be ironic (Hearn 355). Huck is only at the farm to steal Jim the slave from her (Hearn 355). This is ironic because Huck is stealing, which is wrong, but he is stealing Jim to give him freedom (Hearn 355). This is again ironic because once Tom Sawyer does show up; he knows that the Widow Douglas had freed Jim two months prior (Hearn 355).

Tom is seen as cruel because he doesn’t tell Huck right away; instead he wants to go on an adventure (Hearn 355). This can also be seen as racist because Tom is using Jim as a plaything and not treating Jim as a human being (Hearn 355). The other thing to consider is the fact that there is no mention of what happened to Jim’s wife and child (Hearn 355). In 1998, Judge Stephen Reinhardt decided that Huck was a vital component to developing education, in order to think critically about the offensive terminology, the mind must be able to recognize that the material is insulting (Hentoff 2).

To grow academically, people must able to look past the offensiveness and see what true message the author is trying to convey (Hentoff 2). When Joyce Chadwick-Joshua correctly states, “Without the memory of what a word once meant and what can continue to mean, we as a society are doomed to repeat earlier mistakes about ourselves, each other, and serious issues involving us all. ” (Hentoff 2). These young minds have not developed enough intellectually to read the words of the story, process the information and then think further about the author’s underlying message (Hentoff 2).

Critical thinking is a developmental process, the mind groups ideas together, extracts the similarities and difference, then conceptualize what the author wanted the reader to understand (Hentoff 2). Here the mind has to understand between what was once socially acceptable in the past and the difference why it is not accepted today (Hentoff 2). Realistically, a person is not born being able to process and/or understand the true complexity of Huck Finn stood for (Hentoff 2). Huckleberry Finn should be taught to readers that can separate historical events from the imagination involved in a novel (Morrow 1).

Mark Twain meant for the novel to show the humor in the injustice that slavery stood all about (Morrow 1). He was not trying to start a movement with this book because that event already took place many years prior (Morrow 1). He instead wanted readers to see silliness that slavery was about (Morrow 2). Huckleberry Finn is sublime in the fact that it forces the reader to see Huck’s soul, a boy abused and on the run as he befriends a kind man who has similar circumstances (Arac 3).

Huck thinks he’s helping Jim escape to the freedom of the north, but Jim actually cares deeply about the wellbeing of Huck, and is clearly known when the two of them are separated by thick heavy fog and a steamboat (Gregory 51). Huck hides out while Jim desperately looks for him along the Mississippi River, and Jim sits down to rest a moment (Gregory 51). Huck wakes Jim up saying that the whole scenario was just a dream (Gregory 51). Here Jim, confused and intimidated by Huck’s certainty, agrees with Huckleberry’s lie (Gregory 51). Twain’s image of Jim is seen as inferior to Huck because he is confused and trusts Huck (Gregory 51).

Once Jim realized what Huck had done to him, Jim is severely hurt by this trick Huck had played on him (Gregory 51). Huck also feels bad and this is the first time the audience can see Jim as human with feelings (Gregory 51). The way society at that time was valuing slave lives as less than human, also was wrong (Hearn 354). Huck did not have a good father in his life prior to meeting Jim (Hentoff 1). The important message that Mark Twain wanted conveyed in creating Huck Finn, was to show society the hypocrisy that was accepted during the Reconstruction Era (Hearn 354).

The Society of Friends (Quakers) was gave the abolitionist movement its start; they were the first Christians to view slavery as ungodly or not Christian (Mckivigan 1). Even after the war was over, abolitionist still lobbied to protect the newly freed African-Americans in the post-war America. The abolitionists wanted to free the slaves and send them back to Africa, not to let them remain in America (Mckivigan 2). Feeling the pressures of the abolitionist, President Lincoln decided that the overall goal of the civil war was to emancipate the slaves and send them back to Africa (McKivigan 2).

Society was slow to change the way people viewed the freed slaves and African Americans (Hysell 1). Real social changes did not occur until the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. With the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the continuation of the Civil Right Act of 1964, allowed the law to give all citizens no matter race, creed or national origin an equal housing opportunity (Hysell 1). This improved the 14th Amendment which gave citizenship, due process, and equal protection to anyone with legal status (Hysell 1).

With graphic pictures and heartbreaking tales of horrible treatment, the civil rights leaders spoke for equality for African Americans (Blackside). From the Jim Crow Laws, which was another form of racism because it was named after a character of a “minstrel mask” (Gregory 50). Started in the 1840’s, these “minstrel masks” were usually white performers that had blackened their faces and depicted the comedic “burlesque” speech and manners of African Americans (Gregory 50). The Jim Crow laws were designed to keep blacks with blacks and whites with whites because a mix of races would be the end to the great American life (Pilgrim 2).

These laws subjective and could be enforced for any petty offense (Pilgrim 2). From the late 1880’s all the way to the late 1960’s, the Jim Laws were one more way the whites could tower of the blacks (Pilgrim 1). Jim Crow was actually a black character in minstrel shows, and the law was established to allow states to punish people who did not keep with their own race (Pilgrim 1). This segregation led to many ridiculous laws that prohibited blacks from being equal citizens to those of their white counterpart (Pilgrim 1). No matter how compliant black Americans were with these laws, most often paid the price with their lives (Pilgrim 1).

All of these atrocities led to the freedom marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and all the major events that took place during America’s struggle for desegregation (Hysell 1). The problem with Huck is it was not written to be empowering but a perspective that Mark Twain wanted the audience to see insincerity that was promised to the newly freed slaves upon being freed (Chwast 3). Huck is compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the sense that it was not produced to ignite society to make a change, because it had already happened, but as humors helping the reader understand the social unrest of the post-civil war south (Chwast 3).

Seen as insensitive, simplistic, and racist; Huck Finn has been met with controversy from its original publication (Idol-Kaplan 10). Twain stopped working on the novel many times, and Hemingway said it best, “the last twelve chapters are cheating,” Jim is freed and Huck goes on to explore the unsettled west (Smiley 2). Twain returned to the novel to rewrite the feuding between the Gangerfords and Shepherdons, and by this time in the novel the book fall short of greatness (Smiley 1). Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written with a more accurate depiction of slavery that is not blurred with a whitewash that deters readers from its integrity (Smiley 1).

Whereas the multi-layered “dilemma” with Jim was the failure of the author’s direct refusal to address the fact Jim was loyal, intelligent, held a sense of duty, and compassion fall short of a true representation (Quirk 44). Uncle Tom’s Cabin is often the comparison to Huck Finn, giving a more emotional account of slave life; as a result Huck Finn is picked apart to the bone (River-Kaplan 2). As many critics agreed previously, Huck Finn is a negative stereotype depiction of black American’s that should be taught to those who could critically understand the satirical irony that Mark Twain tried to invoke (Hentoff 1).

The novel plays on the racial undertone throughout, but becomes a bit sloppy in the ending because Jim is portrayed as an ignorant slave that should have stayed with the widow Douglass because she freed him months earlier in her will (River-Kaplan 2). The consistent use of the “N” word and the treatment of Jim is the source of controversy with the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn today (Henry 2). Does censorship really eliminate the negativity against African Americans? (Henry 2) The ideal reader would be high school students (Henry 2).

These individuals would be able to see the humiliation that slaves felt while having to work under such inhumane conditions (Henry 2). To overcome the racial issues within Huckleberry Finn, students must be involved in the destruction of racism still felt today (Henry 2). Book banning was not random, but fueled by political influence (Idol-Kaplan 11). Even in the wake of being banned, Huckleberry Finn was still minimally successful simply because it was on the American Literature banned list (Idol-Kaplan 12).

The racial undertone of Huckleberry Finn has been under fire since its publication in 1884 and is still a contender for its banning today (Kaplan 11). Today Huckleberry Finn remains on the banned American literature list at number five, still seen as morally depraved; mostly by African-American parents, racist in tone, and negatively reminds its readers of the horrible treatment of slaves (Morrow 2). Instead of being informative or a cry for action, Huck Finn is meteoric example of the atrocities experienced by slave prior to the American civil war (River-Kaplan 1).

The novel itself was about the society of the civilized yet these people would not accept people as people, just as property and its owner (Morrow 2). Again, it’s not Huckleberry’s fault the novel comes into such controversy; it’s Mark Twain who should be punished for giving Huck such ill fitted voice (Smiley 1). The banning of the book would prove detrimental to the education of youth today (Idol-Kaplan 3).

Works Cited

Arac, Jonathan. “UW Press – : Huckleberry Finn as Idol and Target: The Functions of Criticism in Our Time, Jonathan Arac. UW Press – : Huckleberry Finn as Idol and Target: The Functions of Criticism in Our Time, Jonathan Arac. University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. http://uwpress. wisc. edu/books/0167. htm. Blackside, prod. “Eyes on the Prize. ” Eyes On the Prize. E 185. 615. E 938 1986 Episode #1, 2009. Television. Burns, Ken, prod. “The Civil War- The Cause. ” The Civil War- The Cause. PBS. 2011. Television. Chwast, Seymour. “Selling ‘Huck Finn’ Down the River. ” Selling ‘Huck Finn’ Down theRiver. NY Times, 10 Mar. 1996. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. http://partners. nytimes. com/books/98/04/05/specials/smiley-huck. tml Gregory, Leslie. “Florida Gulf Coast University. ” Academic and Event Technology Services. Florida Gulf Coast University, 13 Jan. 1998. Web. 03 Dec. 2012. . Henry Peaches. “Huck Finn Controversy. ” Huck Finn Controversy. Western Michigan University,28Sept. 2012. Web. 06Nov. 2012. http://homepages. wmich. edu/~acareywe/huck. html. Hentoff, Nat. “Expelling ‘Huck Finn'” Expelling ‘Huck Finn’ Newspaper Enterprise Association, 27 Nov. 1999. Web. 29 Aug. 2012. http://www. sinc. sunysb. edu/Class/pol325/Huck. htm>. Hysell, Patricia. “Civil Rights Act of 1968. ” Examiner. com. N. p. , 11Apr. 2010.

Web. 10Nov. 2012. http://www. examiner. com/article/civil-rights-act-of-1968. Kaplan, Justin. “Chapters 2-4. ” Born to Trouble: One Hundred Years of Huckleberry Finn. Washington: Library of Congress, 1985. 9-23. Print. Kaplan, Justin. “BOOKEND/Justin Kaplan; Selling ‘Huck Finn’ Down the River. ” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Mar. 1996. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. http://www. nytimes. com/1996/03/10/books/bookend-justin-kaplan-selling-huck-finn-down-the-river. html Lester, Julius. “Cultural Studies Analysis of Racism in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ” Yahoo! Contributor Network. Duke

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