The Huck Finn QUestion Essay, Research Paper
Controversy and Conflict: The Huck Finn Question
It was born into controversy in 1885 as Samuel Clemens published his
newest writing entitled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It immediately
sparked debate and outrage that still continues to this day. This book, some
critics contend, is a grotesque example of racist trash. Citing numerous
examples, such as the treatment of minorities, the objectionable language
displayed by the characters, and the unfair portrayal of Southerners, these critics
believe that this book is worthy of being banned from all schools. Still, other critics
maintain that this novel is a true treasure of American literature that gives a
realistic portrayal of the times. This same group of critics also argue that this
novel promotes racial unity and cooperation. How could such a novel give birth
to such contrasting viewpoints? Are both arguments valid? Should such a
controversial novel be taught in schools today? This essay will examine both
arguements and point out each side?s logical points and flawed reasonings.
Afterwards, it will discuss whether or not this book should be taught in schools
today, the Huckleberry Finn question.
A large number of critics contend that the book Huckleberry Finn is racist
trash not fit for the classroom. For example, John H. Wallace described the
assignment to read the book best when he said:
?..the assignment and reading aloud of Huckleberry Finn in our
classrooms is humiliating and insulting to black students… (Wallace, The
Case Against Huck Finn Pp. 17)?
This is a valid argument against the book Huckleberry Finn for many
reasons. For example, Aunt Sally asks Huck about his trip after he arrives at her
house. Huck goes on to describe an accident which occurred while on the boat in
which an African-American worker was killed.
In response to this story, Aunt Sally commented:
?Well, it?s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt in these things.
(Twain, Pp. 216)?
Aunt Sally goes on to say how a similar accident happened to a white man,
but, when she discussed this story, she showed a great deal more concern for the
victim. This last piece shows how lowly blacks were regarded at this time, to the
point of being considered highly expendable. Such a degredation of blacks in the
classroom should not be tolerated if possible. This story also illustrates the
inferior role that blacks were expected to take to whites. Despite the fact that this
book is over 100 years old, its racist overtones are still uncomfortable to blacks
today. In addition, the frequent use of the word ?nigger? nearly 250 times is
extremely offensive to the African-American population, regarding an entire race of
people as trash because of their skin?s coloring. Because of this total degradation
of blacks, this offensive book, critics argue, should be banned from schools.
On the other hand, not all arguments for banning this book can be so easily
justified. Julius Lester wrote the following argument against Huck Finn:
?While I am opposed to book banning, I know that my children?s
education will not be enhanced by reading this book (Lester, Pp.200)?
This argument is not totally accurate. From the quote above, Lester is
saying that his children will learn absolutely nothing from this novel. That
statement is faulty and untrue. Twain?s novel informs its reader about a variety of
topics. For example, slavery and its evil effects are prevalent throughout the entire
book. A child reading this book could easily pick up on the evils of slavery and life
for African-Americans back in the nineteenth century. Besides the subject of
slavery, a reader could learn about the great advances that have been made in
racial equality since the time that the book was written. Back in Twain?s time, it
was uncommon for a black to be able to vote or even own property, but, today
blacks enjoy largely the same rights and privileges that whites do. Therefore, a
reader reading Huckleberry Finn could learn about a number of informative topics.
This point illustrates the fact that not all arguments by anti-Twain activists are
A large group of opposing critics consider this novel to be a ?classic? and
demand that it be made required reading at all schools. These critics use several
arguments to justify this demand. One of the most prominent arguments is,
?Its satirical mode forces us to recognize the inconsistencies in our
moral consciousness (Nichols, Pp. 210)?
Nichols? arguement is one of the strongest in favor of Huckleberry Finn.
This arguement illustrates his point that the main theme of this novel is to show its
reader that times have been much worse and that we didn?t always enjoy the
freedoms we take for granted today. This is very true. For example, Pap, Huck?s
father, is a blatant racist and displays it often. A main example is when he rants
and raves because they allowed a black man to vote. He bellows,
?But when they told me that there was a state in this country where
they?d let that nigger vote, I drawed out (Twain, Pp. 35)?
By reading this passage, the reader can get a sense of what is was like
back in the early nineteenth century before blacks were freed, illustrating the
differences between our times and times one hundred years ago. From this
statement, the reader can learn and be thankful that man has stopped such
practices and ?evolved? to a more tolerant society. Another example of the theme
of society?s improvement towards racial equality is shown when Sherburn killed
Boggs in cold blood. A local lynch mob comes to hang Sherburn and a near-riot
situation ensues. An event like this shows the reader how man has changed and
bettered himself from his ancestors. Today, we give accused killers rights, ?due
process of law?, and proceed in a more ?civilized? manner. These differences
between now and over one hundred years ago show the reader how the human
race has advanced. If this novel can teach its reader about the evils of the past,
then, perhaps, such evils will not happen again. To summarize, the
aforementioned examples are all good reasons why Huckleberry Finn is an
acceptable novel to be taught in schools and should not be banned.
Despite the many arguments in favor of this novel, some of these
arguments are unjustified. For example, Charles H. Nichols, a supporter of Huck
Finn argues that:
?…it [The book] reaffirms the values of our democratic faith, our
celebration of the individual, however poor, ignorant, or despised…?
This argument is highly illogical when closely examined and compared to
passages in the book. When Huck first meets Jim, Jim tells of the reasons he has
run away from Miss Watson. During that conversation, he says:
?…I hear old missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to
Orleans, (Twain, Pp 50)?
This quote reveals the evils of slavery back in the early 1800?s of America.
Slavery in those times was harsh and brutal. Slaves were forced to do
back-breaking labor and were often times treated like animals. Yet, this critic says
that Huck Finn is a celebration of the individual. This is blatantly contradictory.
How can the idea of one man being able to enslave another a ?celebration of the
individual?? In addition, when the Duke and the Dauphin prey on the orphans of a
dead father in order to swindle their inheritance, Huck commented:
?It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human
race. (Twain, Pp. 162)?
This example also shows how humans mistreated, wronged, and harmed
each other to gain personal wealth and power. This also goes against the idea of
?celebrating the individual? as a unique and special being. These wrong points
illustrate the fact that not all arguments for the promotion of this book are
There are many arguments and issues that surround this novel. It has
been called a racist and vulgar piece of trash. It has been praised as an honest
and realistic interpretation of the nineteenth century. Because of these continuing
controversies and opposing viewpoints, this book has been banned by a number
of school districts around the country. Others take the book as required reading
because of its ?classic? status. Should this book be banned in every single school
in the country. The answer is ?no?. Should this book be required reading in
schools? The answer is ?no? as well. This book, because of its controversial
nature and contrasting viewpoints, should be neither banned nor required. This
book should be set aside in a school?s library as ?independent reading? for those
interested in the opportunity to read it. With this solution, no one is offended by it,
and, no one is denied the right to read it. This solution may seem dissatisfactory
to those who want it banned, but, there are books that are far more vulgar and
grotesque worth banning. Conversely, there are seemingly endless stacks of
other ?classic? books and writings to teach and learn besides this novel.
Therefore, the answer to the Huck Finn question, whether to keep this novel in
schools or not, is to try to understand both sides of the debate and come to a
compromise agreeable to both sides. Perhaps that was the lesson that Mark
Twain was trying to teach us the whole time.