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Controversy Behind The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3498 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, should only be included in a 12th grade elective curriculum. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a world novel about real ethical and moral decisions and contains issues that man still faces in today’s society. However, the use of satire in the novel, the depth in the relationship between Huck and Jim and how it is often overlooked, as well as the racist element in the novel, make it inappropriate for a large majority of high school students. For years the novel has gained more and more controversy because of its racist elements and the language that is used. The racist aspect of the novel makes it difficult for younger students to understand, so therefore, it should be taught in older classrooms. However, it is important to read in order to demonstrate to students the social context of slavery at the time, the extensive relationship between Huck and Jim in the novel, and to introduce older students to the literary tool of satire.

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In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the racist elements make it challenging for students in younger grade levels to grasp. This can be seen when Huck uses the term “nigger” in a negative connotation. “Well, if ever I struck anything like it, I’m a nigger. It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race” (Twain 163). This quote demonstrates the racist part of the novel. Only twice in the novel is the word “nigger” used in a negative connotation and this is one of them. In this quote, the word “nigger” means fool. This is different from all the other times in this novel that Twain used this word, because in those times, the word “slave” could be substituted in. It is important for students not to overlook this rare occurrence in the novel because it gives background to the social context at the time. The word “nigger” was the acceptable term that everyone used. No one said “slave” outside of legal documents, or “African-American”, or “negro”. They just did not exist. Students do not understand this because they think of the word “nigger” as racist, but at that time, it was just a word given to slaves.

In the article by Peaches Henry, it can be seen that the word “nigger” gives difficulty to someone trying to read this novel. “The presence of the word nigger…give pause to even the most flexible reader. Moreover, as numerous critics have pointed out, neither junior high nor high school students are necessarily flexible or subtle readers” (Henry 28). This quote illustrates the idea that junior high and high school students do not have the capacity to understand the word “nigger”. They are not flexible enough to overlook this word and only look at what the Twain is saying. This is again because in today’s society, it has a more hurtful meaning than it did back then. In the past, it was only a term given to slaves, but now, however, because of the impact of slavery on this country, people look at the word in a different light; with more scrutiny perhaps.

The article written by John H. Wallace states that a teacher must help students understand the social time period in the novel, as well as the different types of characters being presented. “It is the responsibility of the teacher to assist students in the understanding of the historical setting of the novel, the characters being depicted, the social context, including prejudice, which existed at the time depicted in the book” (Wallace 116). This quote demonstrates that the teacher has the responsibility to help the students understand most of what they are reading in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This includes the social context of the book for the time period that it is set in. For the time period, “nigger” was the accepted vernacular to describe one’s slaves, one’s property. Students have a hard time grasping this fact because they see the word “nigger as offensive”, and do not understand slavery as an important foundation for today’s society. The teacher must carry a heavy burden in trying to make the students understand all that is going on in the novel, and for most, it is difficult to portray this to students. These students just do not comprehend Twain’s time period and the kind of society that existed at that point.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another example of Twain’s use of racism can be seen through the character of Huck when, for a second time, he uses the word “nigger” in a negative way. “Good gracious! anybody hurt? No’m. Killed a nigger. Well that’s lucky, because some people do get hurt” (Twain 221). This quote elucidates the idea that slaves were not human beings, so it did not matter whether they lived or died. Aunt Sally does not even recognize a “nigger” dying as a person dying. This is the other time that the word nigger is used where it cannot be substituted for the word slave because it would not make sense in context. Students, once again, do not have the capacity to not overlook this point in the novel. It is difficult to understand where Huck is coming from because this statement looks bad to our society. It looks racist, but at the time, this is what it was like. Students do not fully grasp this point because that time is so far gone and it is a different school of thought and a different society now than it was then.

The article by Jane Smiley states that students do not understand the impact that slavery has had on this country. “But they almost invariably fail to understand that how they feel means very little to black Americans, who understand racism as a way of structuring American culture, American politics, and the American economy” (Smiley 63). This quote shows that students do not appreciate the meaning of slavery for the United States. The country would not be as successful as it is without the slaves that created a foundation for the United States as it was growing. High school students think that racism is a feeling, but it is much deeper. It is the root of this country and how it operates, even today. Because it was of a different era and of a different school of thought, most students do not appreciate what the slaves made this country into today. They think that they must act and feel a certain way in order to not be racist, but it is so much deeper than that. To fully grasp this whole novel and what it meant at the time period in which it existed, students would have to be at a higher maturity level.

The article by Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua talks about the issue of race being important and essential to the learning of one’s past. “The issue of race is central to America’s future, and such a denial or avoidance of America’s past…We Americans…need to find a clearer understanding of who we were…so that we can more successfully determine what we wish to become” (Chadwick xiv). This quote illustrates the importance of reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This novel allows society to look upon their pasts and understand where they have come from. In order for society to get where they are going, they must understand and learn where they have come from. It is not efficient as a society to just shut out everything that they do not like, in this case, slavery. But, this is exactly why it is so important. Because it is a sore aspect of history, it is valuable to make sure that it does not happen again. This makes the novel harder to understand and one of the reasons that it received so much criticism at the time and still does today. When one is older and more mature, then it is important to look back in order to move forward. Those in younger grade levels may not fully grasp the importance of the idea of slavery and what it means for this country as a whole. Another reason that this novel received so much of its criticism is because of its portrayal of blacks and whites and the relationship that Huck and Jim have.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains an extensive relationship between the characters of Huck and Jim and this can be difficult for some to understand. For this reason, it should be included in a reading list for more mature grade levels, such as a twelfth grade elective. The example of how Huck apologizes to Jim illustrates how Twain was breaking from what was socially acceptable at the time and it can be hard for some to grasp. “It was 15 minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger, but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither” (Twain 86). This quote shows Huck apologizing to Jim, which was groundbreaking at the time. Because slaves were seen as property, a white person would never apologize to one of them. This was one of the reasons that the book was first banned, because it showed blacks in a positive light and whites in a negative one, which was completely opposite from the accepted thought. Society sometimes holds people back from their true potential because what it views as right and wrong. In this case, Huck was doing the complete opposite of what society approved of, and he thought that he should have felt bad for doing so, but he realized that he did not.

The article by T.S. Eliot demonstrates the burden that Huck had to carry on deciding whether or not to travel down the river with Jim. “Is the pathos and dignity of the boy, when reminded so humbly and humiliatingly, that his position in the world is not that of other boys, entitled from time to time a practical joke; but that he must bear, and bear alone, the responsibility of a man” (Eliot 21). This quote demonstrates the incredible burden that this young boy carries to understand his responsibilities to another human being. He knows that society does not approve of this behavior, but he feels that it is the right thing to do. He has a different situation from all other boys, because he has no mother, and his father only shows up when he wants money. He has grown up on his own and does not want to be civilized into society. However, he still looks to society for what the accepted thing to do is because, deep down, he does want to be civilized and he wants what Tom has: a normal life. Students can learn from what Huck has to deal with, because in all situations, doing what society approves of can be difficult and sometimes hard to accomplish.

The article by Robert Lathbury explains how at the moment that Huck apologized to Jim, the two became equals. “To his credit, Huck sees the human outrage he has committed…This moment signals a conscious shift. They have become equals for a moment” (Lathbury 41). This quote shows the importance of Huck and Jim’s relationship in this novel. At this point the two have become equals, which is completely radical for this time period. Blacks were not even seen as people, let alone as equal to whites. It is important to see the difference in what one thinks is right versus what society values. This can be valuable to students in seeing characters make real ethical and moral decisions, because it makes it easier for them to establish a balance between what they think is right versus what society does.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another example of the complex relationship between Huck and Jim can be seen in the part of the novel where Huck decides to go after Jim and steal him out of slavery. “I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things and I knowed it” (Twain 214). This quote demonstrates the decision that Huck had to make: whether or not to go and steal Jim out of slavery. This is a huge decision and it is vital to the understanding of the novel. Huck believes that Jim deserves his freedom, and goes against society to do so. He’s seen that Jim is human and that he has real human qualities. He had such a hard time choosing, because he believed that by going to steal Jim out of slavery most wrong out of the two decisions that he had. He opted to do what he thought was wrong in society’s point of view because he truly believed that Jim deserved his freedom. He saw Jim as a human being and thought that he should be treated as such.

The Lathbury article makes a point about the fact that slavery was socially acceptable at the time, and Huck, by choosing to save Jim, is doing what he thinks is wrong. “The reader knows that informing is a morally reprehensible action because slavery is wrong, but according to the laws of the time and to Huck’s conscience, it is the right thing to do. Huck opts for what he thinks is wickedness” (Lathbury 41). This quote talks about how at the time period it was acceptable for people to turn in slaves and to harbor an escaped slave was considered morally wrong. This is backwards from what one would think because in today’s society, slavery is considered wrong. Students may not understand this and they may overlook the importance of Huck’s decision. He gives his life for Jim, by saying that he will go to hell. This is very important because in place of his life, which he may lose by doing this, he chooses Jim’s life.

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The article by Lauriat Lane illustrates that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel that includes characters that have to make real moral and ethical decisions, which our society can relate to. “At the heart of Huckleberry Finn lies a story about real human figures with genuine moral and ethical problems and decisions” (Lane 157). This quote shows how society can relate to the problems that Huck and Jim face in this novel because they are still relevant today. The moral and ethical issues that this decision had on Huck and Jim’s lives was against what society thought was right. In this case, the novel is so great because of how people can relate to it. The novel is more appropriate for older students, like those in an elective course, because they can appreciate this fact and respond to the novel in a positive way. The other reason that this novel should be read is because it is a novel that educates students.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be read by students in higher grade levels, because it is a novel of education. This can be seen with Twain’s use of the literary element of satire. It is difficult at times to understand, but in order to gain something from this novel, one should understand it. The example of Huck listening to Colonel Sherburn’s speech shows an element of satire in the novel and how it is not easy to catch. “But if only half a man-like Buck Harkness, there-shouts ‘Lynch him! lynch him!’ you’re afraid to back down-afraid you’ll be found out to be what you are-cowards” (Twain 146-147). This quote uses satire to show a popular racist group, the KKK, up for what they really are to Twain: cowards. Twain uses this to make a social comment about the time period. This can be difficult for some to understand because satire is a very evasive language tool. Most do not grasp Twain’s humor when they read it, because what he may have thought was funny is difficult for society to relate to today. Although it is challenging, it is important to expose students at that higher level to it, because it is used in so many different works that they will face in college and beyond. But, because it is so difficult for most to understand, those who read the novel will not fully grasp the whole novel and everything Twain meant it to mean.

The Lane article talks about this novel as a novel of education and how it includes important life lessons. “The novel is a novel of education. Its school is the school of life rather than of books” (Lane 159). This quote demonstrates that this novel is one that can educate students. It can educate them on life, on great American literature, and on how to make moral and ethical decisions. It demonstrates to readers how to make ethical and moral decisions and that sometimes it is important to go against what society values. It is important to read, but only those who meet the novel’s challenging requirements are able to fully grasp the meaning of this novel in its entirety.

The article by Lance Morrow demonstrates how difficult it is to make moral correct decisions in any society. “Huck Finn is about American civilization and about what it means to be civilized in a vast, experimental, provisional and morally unsettled territory” (Morrow 155). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn show how difficult it can be to make moral decisions with society breathing down one’s back. Huck stands against reckless and unwarranted violence, as well as Jim’s freedom and fair treatment of him as a human being. This goes against society’s accepted values and the accepted way to act at the time. This educates students on the challenge that even characters in novels have when facing decisions.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the example of Jim being taught about religion by Miss Watson shows the element of satire in the novel. “He was the most down on Solomon of any nigger I ever see” (Twain 78). This quote shows that Jim had been introduced to Christianity if he knew about King Solomon. This satire demonstrates that someone who is a true Christian would not have a slave and by exposing Jim to it, Miss Watson has directly violated the institution of Christianity. This satire goes to try and make a social change, by exclaiming that slavery in general is a contradiction in the way that they teach of being a good Christian to these slaves and by having these slaves, they themselves are not good Christians. It shows the hypocritical nature of the religion at the time. This exposes students to the idea of satire and what it can be used for. In this way, the novel is seen as a novel of education.

The Morrow article talks about the lessons that can be seen in this novel and how it is necessary to read. “At the same time, it is an inventory of essential values, such as kindness, courage, and the need to think through moral choices. Rather than being banned, the book should be thoroughly studied” (Morrow 155). This quote elucidates that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be read and studied because it contains everyday problems that society may face. It also contains a plethora of different values that are essential to live and survive in today’s society. It is important to look at the novel as a whole and take the big themes and use them to live one’s life.

The Lane article shows the kind of impact that it has on students and how important it is to include in a curriculum in high school, preferably a twelfth grade elective. “A world novel may be defined as that kind of novel whose importance in its own literature is so great, whose impact on readers is so profound and far reaching, that it has achieved worldwide distinction” (Lane 158). This quote illustrates the popularity of this novel and how it has such an impact on literature and readers. This novel is important because it contains a main character that every reader can relate to in some way. Whether it is when he faces the Duke and the Dauphin after fleeing the Wilkes situation, or when he has to decide whether or not to save Jim, every reader can see themselves in Huck and learn from what he does.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a world novel; it should be at the pith of the curriculum for American students. It is important to understand the social context of the novel, the relationship between Huck and Jim, and the use of the evasive language tool, satire. All of these parts of the novel give each reader a challenge, even more so, for younger, more inexperienced readers. But this novel is important to read because of its life lessons and the education it gives students. For this reason, it would be beneficial for students in a twelfth grade elective course, because they would understand and grasp more of the novel as a whole. This way, those reading it would fully grasp everything that Twain meant this novel to mean in the realm of the world. Students in younger grades will not understand most of the happenings of this novel and will most likely be confused. Therefore, the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be most appropriate in a twelfth grade elective course.


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