Huck Finn Racism Essay, Research Paper
Is Huck Finn A Racist Book?
Ever since its publication over a hundred years ago, controversy has swarmed around one of Mark Twain’s most popular novels, Huck Finn. Even then, many educators supported its dismissal from school libraries. For post Civil-War Americans, the argument stemmed from Twain’s use of spelling errors, poor grammar, and curse words. In the politically correct 1990’s however, the point of argument has now shifted to one of the major themes of the book: Racism. John Wallace once said of the book, “It’s the most grotesque version of racist trash” ever written. Were Twain’s archetypal characters and use of vernacular language an assertion of his own racist views, or a critique of the injustice of White society?
Many readers misinterpret racist remarks by characters in the novel as reflections of Twain’s own beliefs supporting slavery. These claims, though, can be easily repudiated by some of Twain’s comparisons between whites and blacks made outside of Huck Finn; for instance when he said, “One of my theories is that the hearts of men are all alike, all over the world, whatever their skin complexion may be”. This brings into question the reason for Twain’s frequent use of the word “nigger”, not to mention the exceedingly racist views harbored by most characters.
It is true that the book is peppered with racist stereotypes, lewd remarks belittling blacks, and the use of the word “nigger” over 200 times, but it is all part of the irony. Twain wrote this book not only to challenge the system of slavery, but also to do so with the most effective of literary devices: the truth. Huck Finn is not racist: It is a profound social statement on the inhumanity of slavery and of every individual’s born right to freedom.
In chapter 32, Aunt Sally and Huck discuss a steamboat explosion:
“Good Gracious! Anyone hurt?” asks Aunt Sally.
“ No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“ Well it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”
This passage highlights Twain’s use of satire. On the surface, it could easily be interpreted as dehumanizing and bigoted, but Twain only uses it to reveal the cold truths of white attitudes in the 1800’s. It also presents the fact that Aunt Polly, one of the simplest and gentlest characters in the book, does not think twice about the violent death of a black person. While disguised as racism, Twain cleverly breaks down white-black relations to the inanities of prejudice.
Less subtle are Huck’s observations of Jim as their relationship progresses. Jim at first is nothing but a source of amusement for Huck, but Huck slowly discovers the real person inside. In Chapter 23, Huck states, “…I do believe that he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for ther’n.” Later, Huck goes even further to say, “I knowed Jim was really white inside.” From Huck, this na?ve statement was the highest compliment he could have given Jim, and reiterates the idea that a black man can have true emotions and real feelings, something that was not commonly believed at the time.
All of this leads to the main point Twain was attempting to make by writing Huck Finn. This book illustrates the possibility of a real friendship across even the strictest social boundaries of race and class. Huck Finn is not only a classic piece of American literature, but also a heartfelt statement against slavery, and a clever ridicule of the duplicity of White America.