Thesis: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

By addressing the relationship between the black Jim and the white Huck in the book, in addition to discussing Twain's use of the term "nigger," one can conclude that parties on both sides of this argument can use the work as a tool to discuss the effects of racism on society and the use of literature in supporting or debunking that racism.

Racism In The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn:

Implications For Society Can Mediate The Debate

An iconic American author, Mark Twain has been a staple in high school and college classrooms for years. The humorous Southern author who worked as a riverboat pilot, printer, and newspaperman before becoming an author ("Mark Twain: Biography") is often an interesting subject for high school students. His novels are taught with cultural significance, humor, and stylistic choices worthy of study. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has long been a favorite among the high school teaching crowd. Not only is it a piece of classic literature, but the novel's main character, the adventurous, miscreant Huck Finn, is a protagonist with which high school students can easily relate. But not everyone is pleased with this book or its inclusion in the high school classroom. In 2007, the Dallas News reported on a controversy regarding teaching the book in the high school classroom, and this controversy was just one in a string of debates questioning whether or not the book should be taught in high schools (Fox). So why is the book so controversial? Primarily, it is the book's use of the word "nigger," although the fact that the book may portray racial themes is another sometimes-cited objection. It was the questionable word, however, that drove Ibrahim Mohamed to ask his teacher that it be shortened on the board to "N-word." Her lesson about the word in reference to the book made Ibrahim, the only African-American in his class, "feel unnecessarily singled out" (Fox). The result of the controversy was yet another appeal to have The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn banned from high school classrooms -- a movement that is made "from Minneapolis to Kansas City to Detroit" (Fox). According to Fox, the novel "remains one of the nation's most hotly debated and challenged books."

But does the book condone racism? Although the word "nigger" is used more than 200 times in the novel (Roberts), some have argued that Twain's portrayal of Huck and his voice is "satirical" (DePalma), that Jim's humanistic portrayal and Huck's discovery of this actually suggests an argument against racism (Gregory), and that Huck himself may have been based on a black subject (DePalma). By addressing the relationship between the black Jim and the white Huck in the book, in addition to discussing Twain's use of the term "nigger," one can conclude that parties on both sides of this argument can use the work as a tool to discuss the effects of racism on society and the use of literature in supporting or debunking that racism. Thus, both sides will be able to the value that the novel has, when used properly, for teaching in the high school classroom.

The relationship between Huck and Jim can be interpreted as both defending and condemning racism. Those who suggest that the relationship defends racism point to the childlike way that Jim follows Huck, his superstitions, and his ignorant portrayal as a suggestion that his race is inferior to Huck's. This is further realized by the fact that Huck, a boy, seems to have control over Jim, a grown man. In the first part of the book, it is obvious that Tom and Huck do not treat Jim with respect. Even the fact that Huck encourages Tom not to tie Jim to a tree is not born out of compassion for the slave, but is done out of necessity -- Huck does not want anyone to find out that he is not asleep in his bed (Twain 7). One of Tom and Huck's first actions in the novel is to take advantage of his superstitious belief by putting his hat on a tree branch in front of him. The wild story that Jim concocts about this incident serves to further expose him as a childlike and silly individual. Further, the fact that "niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to in that country," can be interpreted as mocking not only Jim, but also his entire race (Twain 8). Throughout the journey that Huck and Jim take together, those who suggest that the book condones racism say that Jim is treated as the more infantile of the pair, although he is clearly older and should be considered the guardian. He plays tricks on Jim and considers him ignorant, even though Jin performs parental acts for Huck, such as protecting him from seeing his father's corpse.

On the other side of the argument, some suggest that Huck's attitude towards Jim changes throughout the novel, and that this change can account for a commentary condemning racism. For instance, Gregory points out that "Twain's stereotypical depiction of Jim originates from traditions of his time." She goes on to argue that, during Twain's time period, comedy using the "Black Minstrel" was popular. In this type of performance, white people would paint themselves black to poke fun at African-Americans. Gregory states that Twain's depiction of Jim follows this kind of portrayal, and it would have been the most accepted portrayal of a black man during a time when, though freed from slavery, blacks still suffered great discrimination. In fact, Gregory notes that societal programs "had failed miserably in their goal to re-unite a divided nation and to give economic and legal assistance to blacks struggling to find their place in white mainstream." Despite the fact that Twain's society would have accepted his portrayal of Jim, Gregory goes on to argue that Twain actually shows Jim's humanity, something that he would not have been expected to do in 1884, the year that he finished the novel. Gregory argues that Twain "provides his audience with a clear view of Jim's humanity behind the minstrel mask." She continues to explain that Twain revels Jim's humanity when they are separated from each other, and Jim searches frantically for Huck, but Huck decides to play a trick on him. When Jim expresses human emotions upon the painful trick, Huck is surprised and begins a journey that will continue through the novel, a journey to discover Jim's humanity.

Thus, both those that suggest Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn supports racism and those who believe the novel condemns racism can find evidence to support these arguments using Huck's relationship with Jim. The disagreement in this point, however, can be resolved through a mutual understanding that the work offers an important commentary on the power of racism and society and the importance of literature in either advocating or condemning such movements. Those who see Jim and Huck's relationship as testimony of Twain's racist ideas can use the way in which Jim is portrayed to explain how racist attitudes allow individuals to be placed into stereotypes. Teachers can teach this book using just these methods. Students could be asked to make a list of all the stereotypes with which Twain refers to Jim. Then, students can be asked to apply those stereotypes to situations in the modern world. They can be asked to draw parallels between the book and modern society. Further, they can express why they think that the way in which Jim is treated is deplorable, helping them to further define what racism is and why it is such a problem in any society, whether that be Twain's or their own. In addition, those who believe that the novel condones racism can use it to point out the ways in which writers like Twain use literature to further their ideas. They can also discuss the difference between literature used to further progressive, or positive, ideas and literature used to further oppressive, or negative, ideas. A comparison like this will help those who see the book as supporting racism to come to their own conclusions regarding the effects of that belief in print. It can also help them identify the dangers of a racist society.

Those who believe the book is actually a commentary in opposition to racism, however, can appreciate the book in the same way. Much as those who see Twain as a racist look at the novel to examine the dangers of racism in society, those who do not see Twain as a racist can use the novel to gauge the same ideas. For instance, when examining the relationship between Huck and Jim, those who believe the novel is condemning racism can analyze the difficulty with which Huck comes to his decision that is contrary to society. They can muse arguments that suggest that Huck may have even been based on a black boy (DePalma). By looking at Huck's relationship with Jim,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  (2009, April 17).  Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/adventures-huckleberry-finn-addressing/6013642

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"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."  Essaytown.com.  April 17, 2009.  Accessed December 7, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/adventures-huckleberry-finn-addressing/6013642.