The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has been criticized, censored, and banned for numerous reasons, including a very low grade of morality, rough dialect, and a systemic use of bad grammar among other accusations since it was published in 1885. In the 1950’s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called it racist and blamed the novel for promoting black stereotypes.
Public libraries consistently receive requests to remove this novel from shelves, and school administrators like John Wallace say that it “…is humiliating and insulting to black students. It contributes to their feelings of low self-esteem and to the white student’s disrespect for black people. ” Yet, in 1935, Ernest Hemingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. ” T. S. Elliot called it a “masterpiece,” and scholar Shelley Fishkin calls the novel, “the greatest anti-racist novel by an American writer.
” Although school administrators argue that Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be restricted in school curriculums and banned because it contains content like word “nigger” and demeaning stereotypes, possible values that such works can implement into a student’s life should be taken into consideration as well as if this novel is indeed, too valuable to eliminate from school curriculums. Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was born and raised in the antebellum South, more specifically Missouri.
His daily life was surrounded by slavery and was influenced by it, but also realized that it was immoral. It should be established that Twain was not a racist; he was merely attempting to replicate the colloquial speech he grew up with through his characters (Barlow, “The Lincoln of Our Literature”). Twain, a so-called racist, also offered to pay for Walter T. McGuinn’s — a black student at Yale law school — expenses while he was in school (Barlow, “Lincoln of Our Literature”), saying that, “We have ground the manhood out of them, and the shame is ours, not theirs, and we should pay for it.
”(Barlow, “Lincoln of Our Literature”) Twain feels the need to pay for the hardships that African American’s faced in the antebellum period, thus proving that he is not being a racist in the novel, but simply attempting to “look our ugly racial history in the eye and tell the truth” by using raw, explicit words such as “nigger,” which was used a total of 219 times throughout the novel. Leonard Perett, chairman of the English department at Liberty High School in Bethlehem says, “It doesn’t promote racism.
What it does is show the stupidity of racism…If that book is taught correctly…then it opens up a free dialogue and that dialogue can be freeing. ” Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University, wrote an alternative Huckleberry Finn in which he replaces all 219 uses of the word “nigger” with “slave,” stating that the new edition is only intended for high school-aged readers and younger (Delfino, “President’s Perspective”).
Seeing that this novel is indeed, too important to remove from school curriculums, Gribben’s sole intention was to provide readers with a more “real” meaning of the book because of the distraction that “nigger” creates. However, most believe that it is wrong to change the language, even one word. Doing so would no longer make it Twain’s work (Delfino, “President’s Perspective”), and it would also not have the same realistic impact that Twain was trying to impose on the reader (Barlow, “Building Bridges to Huckleberry Finn”).
Huckleberry Finn, despite being challenged, still has quite a bit of teachers and school administrators defending it. The book offers an opportunity to teach about the distinctions of class and of race and their effects on society (Delfino, “President’s Perspective). There is no better way to teach irony than through this book. Huck, an embodiment of the antebellum south, was raised with the idea that “niggers” are inferior to white people, that they are much less intelligent, and that they are insensitive (Barlow, “The Lincoln of Our Literature”).
It is true that in the beginning of the novel, Huck gives in to the horrid attitude towards blacks. However, as the novel progresses, Huck seems to have a change of heart. Realizing the error of his ways, he apologizes to Jim, a black slave with whom he travels down the Mississippi, and commits himself to helping him escape slavery (Barlow, “Building Bridges to Huckleberry Finn”). Huck continues to refer to Jim by the demeaning word “nigger,” but once again, Twain was only trying to be realistic.
So, why is this piece of work banned? Why are these so-called polemical novels being banned in general? Because books are powerful. Stories are powerful. They’re “recipes made of hopes, dreams, and fears… ” that “transport us to new places, and show us things we could never see, and reveal the darkest parts of our soul. ” (Meltzer, “Does Fiction Matter? ”) Stories have the power to change us by educating, terrifying, and even protecting us.
This fictional novel’s world and the world of real humans are not as different as one might think. What someone writes can truly have a real impact on others. In Huckleberry Finn, people thought that they were getting the story of a white boy and a slave. Instead, Twain gave then an uncompromising fistfight about injustice and slavery (“Meltzer, “Does Fiction Matter? ”). The moral and educational lessons that this novel teaches its readers is what makes this novel a necessity in school curriculums.