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Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper
Including Huckleberry Finn in the Curriculum: a Moral Question
The first amendment right to free speech is one of the most important laws in the Constitution of the United States of America. The right to free speech has spurred ongoing debates over censorship of all kinds of expression, including books. Not many books, although banned in the schools, have been banned outright. Some books, banned because they criticize the government, or because they contain scenes of a graphic nature, do not belong in schools, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, does need to be taught. Huckleberry Finn comes across as a novel that shows different and interesting dialects of the English language, provides a view of life in the nineteenth century, and shows the importance of sacrificing yourself for friends. These make an argument for why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should remain a part of the eleventh grade curriculum in our local public schools.
First, the dialects used by the characters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, unique in the sense that students in high school today do not often hear or speak them, provide a bit of a tutorial into the language itself. By learning more about how the language has progressed over the years and by learning about certain colorful words, students can better learn to use the modern version of the English language.
Don t you holler. Just set still and take it like a man. I got to tell the truth, and you want to brace up, Miss Mary, because it s a bad kind, and going to be hard to take, but there ain t no help for it. These uncles of yourn ain t no uncles at all; they re a couple of frauds-regular deadbeats. There, now we re over the worst of it, you can stand the rest middling easy (Twain 184). In this quote, the dialect jumps out at the reader. Words like holler , brace up , yourn , and middling all show the style that Huck uses to talk. The lack of proper grammar points out Huck s lack of education and the way Huck talks with an up front, leave-nothing-out, almost blabbering manner presents a change of pace from modern day English. The unique dialects read in Huckleberry Finn have faded away through the years so students today would not be able to experience them any other way.
The book, first published in 1885 and written in a dialect that has long since disappeared, is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Huckleberry Finn . . . (Strauss A12). In order for students to learn about these dialects, they must read the novel.
Nigger, being a racial slur, stands out as the most visible, and most controversial, aspect of the dialects used in Huckleberry Finn. Many people feel that the book should be banned just because it contains the word nigger over two hundred times.
But many African-American parents in the city object to the extensive use of racial slurs, including the word nigger, which appears more than 200 times (Grosso NP). Yet others feel that Twain s use of the word nigger and his use of racial slurs in speech aid his attempt to depict what actually would happen in the situation described in the novel. Twain attempts to portray the real world as it was and how he saw it.
As Knapp points out, Twain was depicting his world and its flaws as he saw them, and, doing what great novelists do, he tried to make that world as real as possible. He used dialect . . . . (Smith E1). Students reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would read the dialects used, the racial slurs, and the repeated use of the word nigger; they would then be able to see how the common practices and customs of the times affected the language and dialects of the times.
The novel provides an in-depth history lesson of nineteenth century American culture. The novel presents an accurate description of its time, and it reflects what actually happened in the eyes of a person who actually lived then. It does not water down the events that could have happened and it does not shy away from the harshness of the times.
Some scholars note . . . . The book reflects its time and helps students understand that period of American history (Strauss A12). Since Mark Twain lived what he writes about in Huckleberry Finn, he would be able to present the history in a way that school textbooks cannot; his storytelling and writing abilities allow him to show what life was like for slaves and their owners before the civil war. School textbooks cannot do this because the authors of the textbooks have not lived through what they write about.
Miss Watson s nigger, Jim, had a hairball as big as your fist . . . And he used to do magic with it. . . . So I went to him that night and told him pap was here again, for I found his tracks in the snow (Twain 17). Although Mark Twain teaches a lot about American history in the novel, he does not tell it, he shows it. Throughout the novel, Twain shows the attitudes and customs of the people in the story, not just with a few sentences here or a few paragraphs there, but by continuously having the characters act according to the way he interprets society and culture in the nineteenth century.
But Joi Cunningham, the only African-American student on the committee . . . defended the book: It reflected how it was in the 1880 s, and I think everyone should know that (Becket A19). Even students themselves agree that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn teach what life was like in the nineteenth century for our nations. African-American students feel this is important because they are able to see how their ancestors were treated back then; white Americans they can also see how their ancestors acted during the nineteenth century.
Lastly, Huckleberry Finn shows the importance of sacrificing oneself for friends. The novel shows this with the immense dilemma Huck has in trying to decide whether to conform with society and turn Jim, an escaped slave, in, or help him strive for freedom and not betray their friendship.
I d see him standing on my watch on top of his n, stead of calling me, so I could keep on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to see him in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and only one he s got now; and then I happened to look around . . . . And then I says to myself: All right,then, I ll go to hell (Twain 210). Huck, reflecting back upon all of the incidents that he and Jim have gone through, tears himself apart trying to decide whether to tell Miss Watson that Jim has been captured, or to try and help Jim escape. He debates in his mind, over and over, which is more important: his friendship with Jim or conforming to societal norms.
With his vow to go to hell rather than betray Jim to the slave hunters, Huck s river journey turns from a mere voyage into an exploration of 19th-century America s racial consciousness (Whelan D1). In the end, Huck decides that his friendship with Jim is more important than his need to follow the rules set forth by society.
And it becomes an heroic character when, on the urging of affection, Huck discards the moral code he as always taken for granted and resolves to help Jim in his escape from slavery (Trilling 323). The rules set forth by Huck s society for the treatment of slaves cannot compete with his friendship with Jim in his conscience. Huck shows the readers how much friendship matters in the overall scheme of things by going against an entire society of racism to help his nigger friend.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, considered one of the best American works of fiction ever, should remain a part of the eleventh grade curriculum in the local public schools. The novel shows different and interesting dialects of the English language, provides a view of life in the nineteenth century, and shows the importance of sacrificing oneself for friends.
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