Art is Restricted by the Chains of Censorship The thought that the book they have to read in class was close to being banned at one point in time, might delight a lot of high school students. The book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was and is still criticized for the exceeding use of the word nigger. In our society today this word is considered politically not correct and kids are told not to use it at all.
Therefore some students do not understand why they should have to read Mark Twain’s book in class and especially students with African American roots sometimes get offended by the fact that the book that contains the word nigger is on the reading list of a lot of high schools. Lately the controversy regained actuality as the publisher NewSouth books announced a new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the word nigger will be replaced by slave.
They reasoned it by stating that they were concerned that important works of literature like The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn seem to vanish from the curriculum lists worldwide due to the use of certain words like nigger. Some of the worried parents that did not like their children reading a book with the word nigger over 200 times in it might be calmed by that. On the other hand there is the argument that society might have to get sensitized to and understand the use of the word nigger in the book, before they start censoring it.
Censorship has been criticized by writers throughout history: “Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. ” (Laurie Halse Anderson) It is time now for the growing up generation to work against this act of avoidance. Consequently, the word nigger should not be censored, because it is essential to support the messages of the book for the youth of our time. The censoring of the word nigger would weaken the extraordinarily good portrayal of southern racism in the book. Back them nigger was the proper term for black people, who were mainly slaves.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set before the civil war, therefore there were not even approaches to equal rights for the black population neither in law nor in social treatment. Mark Twain does a good job in portraying the southern racism without even using the term racism or addressing it directly. Readers might have to read extracts multiple times to catch all the criticism for the society in the south. As Huckleberry Finn tells Aunt Sally about his accident on the river their conversation continues in the following way:” Good gracious! Anybody hurt?
No’m. Killed a nigger. Well it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt” (Twain 169). This conversation does serve as evidence of Aunt Sally’s racist attitude which the majority of the southern population shared. She expresses how happy she is that nobody got hurt. The passage reveals that that is exactly what a black man like Jim is to her: a nobody. She does consider black people rather animals than human beings. The southern agriculture depended on slaves, because they weren’t technically evolved enough to replace physical labor by machines.
Black slaves often replaced or worked side by side with oxes and horses, therefore they were on the same social rank as the animals. To oppress the slaves and force them to keep working even while having to endure severe physical pain, the white slave owners often beat, whipped or abused them in numerous cruel ways. The word nigger is essential in the expression of the feelings of the southern population towards black slaves, therefore replacing it with the word slave would distract from the intention of the book to criticize exactly that attitude.
One of the most important themes in the book, that Jim is a great, caring friend for Huck and an extraordinary person, does not interfere at all with the use of the word nigger. Quite the contrary, its use does contrast with Jim’s kindness and does actually help to emphasize it. From the beginning of the book, Jim never says anything mean to or about Huck, even though latter has a lot of prejudices about black people at first. The circumstances in which Huck is raised leads him to think about black people as inferior to white people.
Even though Widow Douglas always seems to treat Jim quite well, there is never any doubt that she thinks that blacks are supposed to be slaves. The fact that she plans to sell Jim to a slave trader and makes it impossible for him to be ever reunited with his family, shows how little she actually cares about him. Huck’s relationship with Jim does change a lot throughout the book because he isn’t under the influence of the Southern society anymore.
A lot of times he struggles with an internal battle between thoughts about Jims kindness and his support and what the society has taught him about right and wrong behavior: ” It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger [… ]” (Twain 66). Huck himself knows that he hurt Jim deeply by disappearing and lying about it afterwards. Nevertheless, it takes him fifteen minutes to get himself to actually apologize to Jim and overcome all the racism that society did try to infect him with. In this passage, it becomes apparent again how much Jim cares about Huck.
Another quote that illustrates this is: “I had the middle watch, you know, but I was sleepy by that time, so Jim he said he would stand half of it for me; he was always mighty good in that way that way; Jim was” (Twain 98). Jim stays up to take a part of Huck’s watch so he can rest. Mark Twain describes him as a friendly, kind and loving person, who builds up a brother-like relationship to Huck, whose guardian is his owner. Although Jim would have every reason to talk bad about the Widow or other white people who treated him badly, he never does.
He teaches Huck, who has a higher education than him, a lot of important life lessons like how to treat a friend and that what society raises a child to do and think doesn’t have to be the right thing. Mark Twain does not use the word nigger to discriminate black people at all. Through his character Jim he reveals a lot of flaws of the Southern society because he has a different view of things. Society has the tendency to ban or censor words or whole works that remind them of events people do not want to think or talk about like, for example, racial segregation.
But often times it is exactly these books that would be important to be read, so that the next generation can learn from the faults of their ancestors. An author that dealt a lot with art and whether or not it should be censored was Oscar Wilde: “The books that the world calls immortal are the books that show the world its own shame. ” It is visible in literature that the times in which horrible events happened are also the times that left us with many important works of literature. World War II with its ma amazing, shocking books about the holocaust is just one of many examples.
Talking about the concentration camps and the treatment of the Jewish population during that time is painful. Still it is very important that especially students read and discuss controversial topics like that. That way they might be able emphasize with others more and develop more respect and tolerance for other cultures and religions. Events like the Holocaust or racial segregation should not get forgotten, because their shocking memory can hopefully prevent similar situations to occur.
The word nigger was a part of that period of time and should not just be deleted out of people’s minds, by censoring it; society should always remember to learn from their mistakes of the past. Any censorship of literature or other arts affect the expression of the intention and initial thought of the creator massively. This does result in a kind of damage, often making it impossible for the public to understand the intended message. Mark Twain had multiple reasons for including the word nigger over 200 times in his novel, and society should not have the right to just replace the word.
Art in every form should be free and unaffected by society and its understanding of right and wrong. That would make the development of new ideas or honest criticism possible and benefits the education of everyone. In the past books that criticized political leaders or governmental structures were often banned and the author imprisoned. People were not able to voice their opinion or express it in the form of art, which often led to big discontentness. Many of the big and bloody revolutions like for example the French Revolution were caused by exactly that dissatisfaction. People of the lower social class felt like their voice was not heart.
Already Napoleon Bonaparte realized how powerful the expression of criticism through printed matter could be: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets. ” Today were are proud of our rights like the freedom of speech and religion. So why do we restrict it by banning or censoring various forms of art? Censorship is just another attempt of the government to control every step of a person’s life, but it usually ends in restricting critical thinking that could eventually serve the greater good of society. Rather than just censoring the word nigger society should try to evaluate Twains intention a bit more.
When the book is discussed in school teachers should give an introduction to make sure that the students understand the setting. Especially the controversy about the word nigger should be addressed to make sure that students understand the difference between the use in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the use of it nowadays. Mark Twain used the word nigger to intensify the portrayal of the southern racism and to add depth to the character Jim. These messages hidden in the book are helpful for the education of the youth and the censoring of nigger would make them less aware of the great power of language.