High School Students Lack the Maturity to Understand the Complexities of Mark Twain's Classic
Is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Appropriate for Schools?
For years the debate has been waged whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, should be kept on high school reading lists. Many African Americans have strongly been opposed to the book because of the use of the word “nigger,” and the racially insensitive portrayal of the character Jim. Defenders of the book have explain away the offensive language by saying that the book accurately depicts the way that people spoke during that time period.
The Use of the "N" Word
The first of many issues with the book is the use of the word “nigger.” Supporters of the book state that while they don’t approve of using the word, that it was a form of speech during the pre Civil War South and made the language is part of history and part of the story. I don’t think that the supporters of the book fully understand that the word “nigger” wasn’t the way everyone spoke; it was the way white people spoke at the time. The word “nigger” is a hurtful word. While people may have become somewhat desensitized to it; probably because they haven’t had to deal with the word being used in a description of African Americans as much. It is an extremely hurtful word, and I don’t think that many supporters of the book can fully understand how strong, and how hurtful that word is. Just because white people referred too African Americans with that word at the time didn’t make it right, nor is it any less hurtful.
The supporters of Huck Finn state that because of its historical importance it should be taught. While that certainly is a valid argument, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right decision. Before Hitler came to power, he wrote and published Mein Kampf (My Struggle). It was historically important because it showed his philosophies about leading a country, but Hitler’s writing isn’t being taught in our schools. Just because a piece of writing is historically important, doesn’t automatically make it right too teach in school.
Another issue with the word “nigger” is that supporters make the argument that because African Americans use the word “nigger”, when associating with other African Americans, that it can’t be that offensive. What supporters of the novel seem to not understand is that the situations are completely different. It would be the same if a friend and I were both very obese. If we both refer too each other as “fatty”, it’s okay because we both are overweight and it’s a joke between us. If a very fit man who I don’t know refers to me as “fatty” I would become upset. It is the same thing with African Americans. Another thing that is a problem with that argument is the facts that African Americans use the word “nigger” too take the sting out of it. It’s the same situation with homosexuals who are referred too as “fags” or “queers.” Homosexuals will say between each other “I’m queer and I’m here.” It is a way of showing that they are okay with who they are and also defusing the power of the word amongst each other. African Americans use the word “nigger” too the same effect. But when someone who is not in the same situation as them, screams “Nigger!” at it is intended as derogatory and an attempt to create a position of power.
The Characterization of Jim
The character Jim has also been a topic for argument. Supporters of the book state that Jim is the only real adult figure for Huck. While that is true, the way Jim is portrayed is a little less than brilliant. “Jim was monstrous proud about it and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths wide open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder”(The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 16).
It shows how they portray Jim as ignorant, and even that he is, he is considered brilliant among the other African Americans. Another problem with Jim’s character is that it is shockingly similar to the black minstrel shows that were put on by white actors, pretending too be black. The purpose of these minstrel shows was to mock the black race as being stupid, illiterate, and lascivious.
That raises the problem of the two halves of the book. In the second half, the story is very serious and portrays how violent America is. The first half of the book is in a way, a light hearted comedy. The problem with that is, it could be taken that Twain is using Jim as a way too get a laugh. After reading about “Blackface Minstrelsy” I think that part of Twain’s motivation was too get cheap laughs at the beginning of the book, by using Jim.
I definitely do not think that Twain was a racist, nor do I think that Huck Finn was written to be a racially insensitive novel. I am also not debating the overall message of the book nor the importance that The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn plays in American literature. I am merely stating that no matter how you analyze it, the book offends many African Americans and students of high school age probably do not have the maturity to completely understand the complex issues surrounding the novel. I think that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be taken out of the schools. However, I feel that making the book required to read is a terrible decision. What do teachers have too gain by forcing kids too read a book that makes them feel uncomfortable in the school? When in fact they spend most of their day in the classroom. I would encourage any supporter of the book too sit down with an African American and at least try too get a point of reference before sitting down and assuming that they know what, and what isn’t offensive too the African American community.