Banishment?: Censorship Of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn Essay, Research Paper
The novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, has received much criticism through the years. Yet Ernest Hemingway, among other great American writers, considers this work a great American classic. This novel addresses many social issues in the South before the Civil War, causing some critics to find it racist or degrading to the African American culture. For this reason, these critics often attempt to ban Huckleberry Finn, or at least censor it, taking it out of the teaching curriculum for junior high and high school students. Analyzing Twain’s major themes—his satire of racism, the cruelty of the dehumanization of Jim—and the ignorance and inhumanity of the South reveals that although some subjects and terms used are somewhat mature, this book has valuable lessons to teach.
Huck says, “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (225). Throughout the novel, Twain uses satire to address issues about which he feels strongly. The two main areas he satires are racism, and the cruelty of human beings. He does this so that the reader has the ability to think on his own and draw their own conclusions and opinions about the happenings of that time. Huck, “Tom”, and Aunt Sally are speaking to one another about the boat ride, Aunt Sally asked Huck if it hurt anyone and he says, “No’m. Killed a nigger” (216). Aunt Sally responds with, “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.” When reading this passage, Twain forces the reader to ponder and question Aunt Sally’s response on his own and then he will hopefully find it disturbing and horribly wrong. At times the reader can miss the message and take the vulgar and demeaning passage offensively, explaining the desire of some people to keep it away from their children. This action may have some benefit for some younger students, but that should not give the allowance to completely ban the book. In the eleventh grade, students receive the requirement to read Huckleberry Finn. By this time, they have matured enough to handle the mature nature of this book and have the ability to read it objectively. Also, in high school, teachers focus more on theme and interpretation of writing instead of focusing on just the plot. This allows the teachers to explain the satire in Twain’s writing, and helps the students understand the meaning of the vulgarity in the characters.
In Twain’s novel, Miss Watson, Huck Finn’s caretaker, owns Jim. She discovers that selling Jim could put $800 in her pocket, making her think of Jim merely as property. Booker T. Washington when defending Huckleberry Finn in the North American Review,
“Before one gets through with the book, one cannot fail to observe that in some way or other the author, without making any comment and without going out of his way, has somehow succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for “Jim”, in spite of the ignorance he displays. I cannot help feeling that in this character Mark Twain has, perhaps unconsciously, exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the Negro people.”
As Washington said, Twain desired sympathy and compassion with the “Negro people”, so he created events and words of vulgarity and cruelty to emphasize this. Huck Finn plays a trick on Jim, causing him to believe that he dreamt about separation from Huck on the river during the fog. This upsets Jim greatly, so he refers to Huck as trash, saying that people who play tricks on their friends to make them feel ashamed are all trash. Huck feels extremely apologetic for doing something like that to Jim, his one true friend (90). Jim may not have known much, but he understood the importance of friendship and trust, and honesty. Yet people, during the period before the Civil War, overlooked slaves’ humanity, turning them simply into hands and laborers. Twain used this passage to show a young, innocent boy’s realization that Jim, a black slave, possessed a great humanity about him. This realization, this theme, showed great importance in Twain’s novel, and that importance must live on in schools, taught in high schools.
Due to the use of satire and vulgarity in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, pertaining to human cruelty and Jim’s dehumanization, many critics desire the censorship or banishment of the novel in high schools and on allowed reading lists. The novel also contains an idea on discovering peoples’ humanity, no matter what the status. The allowance of the banishment or censorship of this great American would ultimately hurt today’s society. With censorship comes the loss of great and important themes throughout this novel.