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Hentoff Summary Essay, Research Paper

Hentoff Summary

The classic novel written by Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , has caused great controversy over whether or not it should be removed from public schools in the United States. The National Advancement Association for Colored People (NAACP) supported banning the book from all public schools by filing grievances with the state s Human Rights Commission. Nat Hentoff, a nationally renowned authority on First Amendment rights as well as being a Mark Twain scholar, opposed the NAACP in favor of teaching from the book to students across the nation. Huck Finn has been a topic of considerable dilemma over whether or not it is, in fact, a racist or an anti-racist novel.

In a Tribune article dated November 27, 1999 titled NAACP wants Huck Finn expelled Mr. Hentoff quotes the NAACP stating, tax dollars should not be used to perpetuate a stereotype that has psychologically damaging effects on the self-esteem of African-American children. The NAACP makes it clear where they stand on the issue and gives valid reasoning for filing grievances by referring to the books content of racial epithet and bigotry. After all, the novel does contain the word nigger over 200 times and it is easy to see why this may be offensive and damaging towards young African-American children.

However, the NAACP may be overlooking a thirteen year olds ability to comprehend satire and irony. Mr. Hentoff records an eighth grader s opinion on the subject who said, Do you think we re so dumb, that we don t know the difference between a racist book and an anti-racist book? Judge Stephen Reinhardt also supported Mr. Hentoff s stand against the NAACP when he wrote, Words can hurt, particularly racist epithets, but a necessary component of any education is learning to think critically about offensive ideas. Without that ability, one can do little to respond to them. Judge Reinhardt s statement goes hand in hand with that of the eighth grader.

Perhaps Mr. Hentoff s biggest support, however, comes from the novel itself. The climax of the story is when Huck struggles with the decision either to turn in his slave friend Jim with a note he had written or continue his course to free him. Huck is very unsure what to do at this point and struggles between a sound heart and a deformed conscience. In the end, Huck decides to follow the way of a sound heart by ripping up the note and declaring, All right, then, I ll go to hell! showing his decision to stay the course in freeing his friend. He places the value of friendship above that of worldly opposition despite any consequence of what may happen to him for helping to free Jim.

Is the risk of having psychologically damaging effects on the self esteem of African-American children worth the price of learning to think critically? Or is it a necessary lesson to be learned regardless? Without the memory of what a word once meant and what it can continue to mean, we as a society are doomed to repeat earlier mistakes about ourselves, each other, and serious issues involving us all, said Jocelyn Chadwich-Joshua. Mr. Hentoff chose to end his article reciting Ms. Chadwich-Joshua because she is an African-American, a scholar of Mark Twain, and she agrees with Mr. Hentoff.

There is much support regarding Nat Hentoff s defense for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn against the NAACP, and it is clear to see why. A very noble act of altruistic heroism is displayed by Huck in this novel and is a wonderful example to be followed by younger teenagers. Mr. Hentoff refers to an eighth graders capability to comprehend satire and irony. Above all, however, is the important concept of learning to think critically and this is a necessary component in our relationship to others.


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