Mark Twain Censorship Essay, Research Paper
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book written by Mark Twain.
This book has been scrutinized, censored, and argued over since it s publication.
There are many ways to look at Huckleberry Finn. One can look at it as a
derogatory book, focusing on the stereotyping of Negroes and the excessive use
of offensive language. Or one can see it as merely a book reflecting the times it
was written in and the language, attitude, and cultures of that time. To
understand this book, we must look at the times it was written in and the man
that wrote it.
Mark Twain was Born Samuel Langhorn Clemens, in 1835 in Florida,
Missouri. At about the age of four, his family moved to the Mississippi river
town of Hannibal, Missouri. As a child he was surrounded by the slave culture.
This story, found in Mark Twain at Your Fingertips shows us how his mother
behaved toward the slaves.
We had a little slave boy…there in Hannibal…He was a cheery spirit, innocent
and gentle, and the noisiest creature that ever was, perhaps. All day long he was
singing, whistling, yelling, whooping, laughing-it was maddening…
His mother s obvious care for Negroes would never have allowed her to
have viewed a minstrel show. Minstrel shows of the time featured blacks as
child-like, idiotic tools for mere entertainment. Eventually Twain tricked his
mother into viewing one such show. This story was also told in Mark Twain at
Like my mother, Aunt Betsy Smith had never seen a Negro show. She and my
mother were very much alive; their age counted for nothing; they age counted for
nothing; they were fond of excitement…
Surely Twain grew up a proper young man with a generous regard for all
persons. Many aspects of his life show him with this attitude. One of his more
famous quotations include, In the case of the Negro… The majority of us do not like
his features, or his color, and we forget to notice that his heart is often a damned sight
better than ours (322). This was a reflection of his wife Clara. None of Twain s
personal statements were derogatory to Negroes, at least not any in print. His
statements were reserved for his novels.
The book, The Art, Humor, and Humanity of Mark Twain, states that
Mark Twain wrote in six stages of humor, pages 186-190 describe these stages.
The first stages of his development can be categorized as exaggeration. This
type of exaggeration was taken and honed from frontier tall tales, and was most
evident in his book Roughing It, written in 1870.
The Gilded Age published in 1871, illustrates the lapse into his second
form of writing. Exaggeration evolved into satire. His satire was blithe and gay
with no overwhelming sense of deep meaning. The satire used in The Gilded
Age was so elevated that most people did not understand it s humor. Since the
humor was above most people s heads they did not see it as a very good book.
Although, they did think it had great historical context.
While The Gilded Age was hailed as a historical novel, Twain was
unhappy with its reception. He therefore moved into his third form of humor,
used in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer(1816) and The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn(1884). Twain had moved into dramatic irony. This was used
mainly against the main characters. This type of humor is similar to when one
person laughs at another s oddities of personality, because they have a view that
the person does not. We get such a view of Tom and Huckleberry.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur s Court ushers in the fourth stage of
Twainian humor. This humor was pure and simple ridicule. He wanted to
shake his fist at all that is tyrannical including; war, aristocracy, and injustice in
general. To bring about the realization of these attitudes he maked the offenders
as ridiculous as possible to show us their simple stupidities. Pudd nhead
Wilson(1892) is another example of ridicule for a good cause. The quotation
April 1 This is the day on which we are reminded of what we are on the other three
hundred and sixty-four (Brashear,Rodney190), shows that in humor we are more
open to our faults.
In the fifth stage of his humor Twain began to show more precise feeling.
As his buffoonery declined his literary value increased. Although, he could not
shake the humor that made him world famous his work became more serious.
His piece Joan of Arc(1895) brought this period in. The tone of his writing had
changed and metamorphasized into a tender, descriptive meilleur that contains
and overall sense of serenity.
The sixth and final stage that Twain wrote in began Around the time of
his wife, Clara s death. Her death embittered Twain and for the rest of his life
he was an angry man. His writings reflected the changes in his life. After Clara s
death his words, though still humorous, became dark. Twain also became bitter
with world events. The Mysterious Stranger(1898) was the embodiment of this
time in Twain s life.
Twain Lived during one of the most tumultuous times in American
history. Very soon after America became a nation it was torn apart by the Civil
War. At a time where all the norms in the nation were questioned Twain was
writing and thriving. In a society that could have cast him out for his personal
beliefs Twain lived a life that people saw as moral.
Mark Twain s book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the
derogatory term for Negro over 200 times. Many see this as the main point of
the book. But the main point of the story is a boy overcoming the societal norms
of slavery and giving in to his subconscious(read heart) to do the right thing.
The book s main downfall was the stereotyping of Negroes of the time period.
Not only were Negroes stereotyped in literature but also in everyday
humor. Mark Twain Laughing gives an account of an anecdote told by Twain.
A colored cook was just about to send the roast into the dining room when his
sweetheart came to see him. The roast was a rare, juicy goose, and the girl cast
longing glances at it. Temptation overcame the poor cook. He cut off one of the
legs and gave… (Twain 47).
These characteristics portray Negroes as mere idiot savants that are only given to
the baser instincts in life. This attitude is continued in Twain s Huckleberry
Finn. The character, Jim, is a slave. His attempt to find freedom is hampered
when the run away, Huckleberry Finn accidentally intercedes him. There is a
moral struggle in Huck as he decides whether or not to return Jim to his
mistress. There are many examples in Huckleberry Finn displaying the general
attitude toward Negroes of the time. A few examples include,
Doan hurt me-don t! I hain t ever done no harm to a ghos . I alwuz liked dead
people, en done all I could for em. You go en git in de river ag in, whah you
b longs, en doan do nuffin to Ole Jim, at uz alwuz yo fren (Lettis 36)
Yes. You know that one-laigged nigger dat b longs to old Misto Bradish? Well,
he sot up a bank en say anybody dat put in a dollar would git fo dollars mo at de
en er de year. Well all de niggers went in , but dey didn t have much
Both of these passages demonstrate the generic belief of Negroes attitudes of the
These attitudes toward Negroes have been disputed since the books
publication. It was banned from the Concordia library almost as soon as it was
released. A major debate has risen because of the content of this book. The San
Francisco Examiner wrote of one school s debate in October of 1995. The
African American Parent Coalition joined together to remove Huckleberry Finn
from the school s required reading list. They used the previous arguments to
back up their side. They did not want it banned but to give the students an
alternative choice. The book would still be available, it would merely be
The Yale Daily News documents another attempt at censorship in
March of 1995. Students in a New Haven, Connecticut middle school. School
Board members decided to remove the book from the reading list after its
divisive issues began to upset parents. The book will remain in the library and
in the five other middle schools in the town. This article states that Huckleberry
Finn is one of the ten top disputed books in the country.
Huckleberry Finn s social issues have polarized the nation. There are
many choices in todays society. The book can be banned, it can be censored, the
curriculum can change, or we can continue to teach the book as it is. There are
many sides to the issue of the racial stereotyping and offensive language
contained in Huckleberry Finn. Twain was an author raised around slavery and
the Civil War. During a time when the attitudes of a nation were changing
dramatically, Twain wrote and prospered. His heritage brought him up as a
decent man. His changing personality was evident in his writing as it evolved
into six themes. Over his life Twain evoked many disputed about his work and
his attitudes. The main question that must be asked of Twain is what his motive
were when he wrote Huckleberry Finn and depicted Jim as the general
bumbling Niger .
1.Harnsberger, Caroline Thomas. Mark Twain at Your Fingertips. pub.1948
byBeechcourt Press, New York. pps.321,270,322
2.Brashear, Minnie M.,Rodney, Robert M.The Art, Humor, and Humanity of Mark
Twain. pub.1959 by University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma. pps.190
3.Twain, Mark.Mark Twain Laughing.pub.1985 by University of Tennessee Press,
4.Lettis, Richard.Huck Finn and His Critics.pub.1962 by the Macmillan Company, New
5.Twain, Mark.The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn.pub.1884 by Harper & Brothers
Publishers, New York.pps.50
6.Grosso, Chris City Middle School Drops Huck Finn .Yale Daily News.March 20,
7.Beckett, Jamie San Jose Parents Group Want Book Optional .San Francisco
Mark Twain, To Teach or To Censor
A.Born Samuel Langhorn Clemens
B.Missouri boyhood, Florida and Hannibal
II.Stages of humor
B.Satirical:1871-1875,The Gilded Age
C.Dramatic Irony:1876-1884,Huck Finn
E.Decline in Buffoonery:1895-1902,Joan of Arc
F.Dark Humor:1902-1910,The Mysterious Stranger
IV.Huckleberry Finn- one of the top ten most disputed books in the country