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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often seen as a racist work by many people. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was being written during the reconstruction of the South after the American Civil war. At this time tension between the races was very high, especially with things such as the Jim Crowe laws in place. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a totally racist book, only the ending and language are racist. The majority of the book is not really racist especially for the time that it was written. For the most part the book is not racist. The language could be changed for younger audiences and the ending could be changed. In his criticism Leo Marx says, “I believe that the ending of Huckleberry Finn makes so many readers uneasy because they rightly sense that it jeopardizes the significance of the entire novel”.
Here Marx is discussing how the ending is so different from the rest of the book. Through out the book Huck and Jim have a nice relationship, they are friends of sorts, but then at the end of the story that seems to change. At the end of the novel Tom says, “he ain’t no slave; he’s as free as any creetur that walks this earth!”. At the end of the story even though Tom knows that Jim is free he only told him at the end, after their adventure with Jim getting re-caught. In his criticism essay Smith says, “The book takes special note of ways in which racism impinges upon the lives of Afro-American, even when they are legally free”. Here Smith is talking about how the book uses stereotypes to try to combat racism. The book is believed to use popular stereotypes about African American to combat racism. These stereotypes are often misunderstood and seen as the book being racist when critics look back on the book today. In his criticism Lester says, “The novel plays with black reality from the moment Jim runs away and does not immediately seek his freedom”. He Lester seems to imply that Twain purposefully writes Jim to be ‘dumb’. This could be seen as a stereotype at the time, that all slaves are uneducated.
The passage that Lester refers to is where Jim and Huck are escaping and end up going further into the South instead of just crossing into Illinois. In his criticism Smith says, “Twains strategy with racial stereotypes is to elaborate them in order to undermine them”. Here Smith refers to the stereotypes that usually make the novel unpopular. These stereotypes are what usually deem the book as racist, but Smith believes that these stereotypes to undermine how the racist ideas at the time. Smith also says, “In fact, the exchange between Huck and Aunt Sally reveals a great deal about how racial discourse operates”. Smith is making another point about stereotypes at the time. He talks about Twains use of stereotypes in his novel, particularly in Aunt Sally who displays how most white people in the South thought at the time. He also mentions the racial discourse that was prominent at the time when he was writing the novel at the end of the reconstruction. While the ending of the book is racist some of the language could also be seen as racist.
The book is not an overly racist book it’s mostly just the language. The language is not horrible considering the time period that it was written in. A prime example is in the book where Jim and other slaves are repeatedly called N-words. For example, in the book where Huck was talking about his passage on the steamboat and says that no one got hurt it just killed a slave. Here Huck uses a slang term for African Americans that was popular at the time, it has only gotten more controversial as time went on. In his criticism essay Gribben states, “Through a succession of firsthand experiences, this editor gradually concluded that an epithet-free edition of Twain’s books is necessary today”. Here Gribben brings up the topic of how he believes that an edited, profanity free version of the book is needed. In her criticism Kakutani says, “Worse, it relieves teachers of the fundamental responsibility of putting such books in context…”. Kakutani is talking about how it is a bad idea to take the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn out of the curriculum. Kakutani also says, “Never mind that attaching the epithet slave to Jim… effectively labels him as property, as the very thing he is trying to escape”. Here Kakutani is bringing up the point that the term slave could be seen as just as bad as the N-word is to some. In her essay Morrison says, “A serious comprehensive discussion of the term by an intelligent teacher would have spared all of us some grief”. Here Morrison is discussing the use of slang in the book. I believe that Morrison is right, that if gone about the right way the book would be alright to read in upper level schools. I believe that an edited version would be better for younger audiences, but that for older audiences the original text would be best to read.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a totally racist book, only the ending and language are racist. Even though the book has some racist tendencies I do not believe that it is meant to be read as a racist book. I think that the book was written as normal as possible for the time at which it was written and was not meant to offend anyone. At the time that the book was being written it was very common to use the offensive slurs that can be seen in the book. If the language is explained the right way, then the book should be ok when being read by a mature audience. Overall if the language and the ending of the story can be overlooked the story appears to just be a boy helping someone escape slavery and building a friendship along the way.
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