The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, is probably one of the greatest works of American literature ever written. Ernest Hemingway even said in his book The Green Hills of Africa, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn” (Zwick). However, since Twain published Huck Finn 112 years ago, it has been the subject of much criticism, mostly all unfair. The Concord, Ma, banned the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Public Library immediately after its publication in 1885. They said the book was “rough, course, and inelegant…
The whole book suited more to the slums than to intelligent respectable people” (as quoted in Clemens 285). Since the original banning of Huck Finn, it has been challenged and banned many times all over the country. Much question has been brought against Huck Finn as to its appropriateness for the reading public, and some of it rightfully so. Huck is not as strong in his morals as our parents and educators would probably like him to be. He is involved in several acts of theft. For example, shortly after the beginning of his journey along the river, he would go ashore and he “lifted a chicken that warn’t roosting comfortable… Clemens 56). Huck smokes and cuts school. (Clemens 9 and 18)
He engages in lying, when he impersonates a girl to visit St. Petersburg and when he tells the bounty hunters that Jim is white and implies that he has smallpox (Clemens 51 and 75). He lies many other times throughout the novel; Huck is a bad example to children who may read this book. Huck’s plan to escape from Pap’s cabin in the woods, which involves smearing pig’s blood all over the cabin and making it seem like a murder had occurred, is an easy scheme for any smart youth to scare his parents with (Clemens 31).
In October of 1997, a ninth grader in Hollister, California “borrowed” money from his parents and used it to fly to Hawaii. His mother believed that the boy got the idea from his hero, Tom Sawyer (Zwick). Critics claim that the book is full of ideas that cause impressionable children to do things like that (Ockerbloom). Opponents still have more negative arguments about the content of the book. Leslie Fielder, a literary scholar, believes that Huck and Jim engage in some type of homosexual relationship on the raft (Fielder as quoted in Clemens 416).
The fact that Huck and Jim seldom wore any clothes on the raft only further substantiates this idea. Additionally, Twain intended Huck Finn to be a humorous novel. However, most of the humor, especially towards the end of the book in the Wilks brothers con, is in poor taste and “inelegant” Boston Transcript. Twain’s poking fun at the Hare-lip, and the “long legged under taker” episode were not looked favorably upon at time of publication, but are not as much criticized now (Clemens 139 and 144).
Today, the main objection to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the fact that the book contains the word “nigger” more than two hundred times throughout the novel. As recently as last February, the Pennsylvania branch of the NAACP led a charge against Huck Finn to have it removed from required and optional school reading lists. But, when considering the issues involved, one must keep in mind that this book was written in a different time from that which we live in today. There was no such thing as politically correct.
The word “nigger” was a word used commonly and unabashedly back then. So, how can we hold a book written over a hundred years ago to the literary standards of today? Huck Finn is not a racist book, in spite of Huck’s initial racist standpoint. Through the course of the novel, Huck gains increasingly more respect for Jim, but still shows some racist attitudes occasionally. After the disagreement with Jim over the biblical story of “ole’ King Sollermum”, Huck remarks that “you can’t learn a nigger to argue,” thus implying Jim’s stupidity (Clemens 65 and 66).
Throughout the book, Huck plays tricks on Jim, which are also meant to make Jim feel stupid. Towards the beginning of the book, shortly after we are first introduced to Jim, Huck and Tom put Jim’s hat on a nail over his head. He is convinced he has been ridden by witches (Clemens 11). The only motivation for Tom and Huck doing this is to make Jim look stupid. Later, on the river, after Huck gets lost on the canoe, he tells Jim that he was there the whole time and never gone (Clemens 71). Huck’s practical jokes caused Jim emotional pain and even physical pain.
On Jackson’s Island, Huck kills a rattlesnake and places it in front of Jim’s blanket to scare him. The rattlesnake’s mate comes and bites Jim on the foot. Jim is sick for four days and four nights subsequently (Clemens 46). By the end of the novel, Huck vows not to play tricks on Jim and he acquiesces to “humble himself to a nigger” (Clemens 72). He gains respect for Jim to the point where Huck will sacrifice his soul and go to Hell for Jim. Huck contemplates telling Miss. Watson about Jim, but Huck decides he would rather go to hell than betray his friendship with Jim (Clemens 169).
Huck’s willingness to lie to protect Jim definitely shows that Huck sees Jim on a higher level than his status was in nineteenth century America. In addition to being a book that has been called racist, Huck Finn is a book that also was criticized around the time of publication for being antiracist. Twain’s depiction of Jim as heroic sends an abolitionist notion through the book. Jim is said by many critics to be ignorant, superstitious, and typical for an uneducated slave. However, many of Jim’s superstitions turn out to be based on practical knowledge of nature.
For example, on Jackson’s Island, Jim could tell by the birds that the thunderstorm was coming (Clemens 43). In addition, Jim is shown as a caring and kind person in many instances, including after Tom is wounded and he insists on finding a doctor. (Clemens 216) This is made very clear when Jim recounts to Huck a story about him hitting his daughter and feeling guilty about it. (Clemens 125) Jim is not a character that Twain uses to make blacks look bad but a character that “should make every black American proud. ” (Brunner)
With all this controversy surrounding the book, it is not a big surprise that Huck Finn has been banned all over the country. However, as many people as the banning of this novel has appeased, still more have been angered by its banning. One man, one who you would think would be the most distressed at the banning of the book, was not upset. Mark Twain seemed to be almost grateful for the arguments surrounding his novel. Twain said that the Concord Public Library, ” condemned and excommunicated my last book–and doubled its sale” ( as quoted in Clemens 285).
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was not Twain’s only banned book. Another of his novels, The Diaries of Adam and Eve was banned. It was banned because of an obscene drawing contained with the original publication called Eve in “Summer Costume” (Zwick). The morals of the characters were also under scrutiny, a not unfamiliar state for many of Twain’s creations. Twain was not the only victim of America’s disdain for controversial literature. William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was banned for encouraging homosexuality. In addition to Shakespeare’s play, books from other prestigious authors such as John Steinbeck and J.
D Salinger were also banned. Most notably books without recognized authors were banned too. Miriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary were both challenged because of their inclusion of obscene words. Possibly, the most surprising of all was The Bible, which was called obscene, and pornographic (Ockerbloom). When Twain learned of his books being in similar company along with The Bible, he asked, “If there is an expurgated [Bible] in the children’s department, won’t you please remove Tom and Huck from that questionable companionship?
Twain was actually a fan of condemned novels. He showed this, along with his contempt for the censors, when he said, “I am always reading immoral books on the sly, and then selfishly trying to prevent others from having the same wicked good time” (Zwick) Twain did not care so much what library officials and other censors thought of his book. In the words of Booker T. Washington, “All that he wrote had an interest for the commonest man and woman” (Washington as quoted in Zwick). He wrote for the regular, average person.
Twain refused to sell his book in bookstores, but door to door through subscriptions making it more accessible for average people. Twain once said, “My books are water; those of great geniuses is wine, everybody drinks water” (as quoted in Zwick). His book was not aimed at those who would take offense to abolitionist notions or humor at the expense of Hare-lips, but the common man. According to Brander Matthews, “Old maids of either sex will wholly fail to understand him or to like him or to see his significance and value. ” (as quoted in Sloane 10)
Critics say about Mark Twain, that his book, “enters as a classic only to explode like a hand grenade with all of these combustible issues” (Shelley Fisher Fishkin as quoted in Zwick). Huck Finn has managed to remain a piece of classic American literature even in spite of a mountain of unfair criticism. “We must be glad that we have a public commentator like Mark Twain always at hand” (Paine) We should all be glad that we have a “public commentator like Mark Twain” always at hand, and instead of banning his work, we should pay attention to what Twain has to say .