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Racism In Mark Twain Essay, Research Paper

Mark Twain has always been one of the most controversial authors of all time. Though in recent years, there has been increasing controversy over the ideas expressed in his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In some extreme cases the novel has even been banned by public school systems and censored by public libraries. The basis for this censorship is the argument that Mark Twain’s book is racist, but in reality Twain was against racism and used this book to make people aware of what was going on in the south. He did this by using the regional dialect of the south, showing the attitude of the other characters in the novel toward black people, and showing his depiction of black characters. If one were to “read between the lines” in order to understand the underlying themes of the novel, one would realize that Mark Twain was not a racist and was even anti-slavery.

Mark Twain was the first American author to use explicit common folk dialect in his writings. Many people think dialect such as that found in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is made up. In truth, Mark Twain’s dialect is not haphazard. It is composed of painstakingly accurate Missouri Negro dialect, an extremist form of the backwoods southwestern dialect and ordinary Pike County dialect (Knowledge Adventure 1). An example of Huck’s dialect is “The widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and descent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out” (Twain 1). An example of Aunt Polly’s mainstream, yet common dialect is “Tom, you didn’t have to undo your shirt collar where I sewed it, to pump on your head, did you? Unbutton your jacket!” (Twain 6). An example of Jim’s dialect is “Yo’ ole father doan’ know yit what he’s a-gwyne to do. Some times he spec he’ll go ‘way, nen den ag’in he spec he’ll stay” (Twain 19).

Racial slurs are used throughout the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They are not meant to be a representation of the author’s attitude, they are meant to accurately depict common language and expressions regarding Black Americans at the time. Such expressions also reveal the attitudes of the time. An example of the use of racial slurs is “The nigger run off the very night Huck Finn was killed. So there’s a reward out for him – three hundred dollars” (Twain 55). Another use of racial slurs is “Has everybody quit thinking the nigger done it?” (Twain 56). Perhaps the strongest example is a quote from the character Injun Joe, “He had me horsewhipped! -horsewhipped in front of the jail, like a nigger!” (Twain 176).

Some contemporary Black Americans view these types of comments in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be degrading and prejudicial. If one looks at the bigger message they can see how Huck struggles mentally between his desire to help Jim (Jim represents the decent, good-hearted, black man of his day) and conforming to the pressures of the racist and classist American society of his time. The novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then outspokenly challenges the status quo and speaks from the heart. To contrast both sides of Huck’s dilemma, on the one hand he hears “What had poor miss Watson done to you that you could see her nigger go right off under

your eyes and never say one single word?” On the other hand he hears “Jim won’t ever forgit you, Huck; you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; and you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now” (Twain 147).

Mark Twain used these controversial topics in his novels to try to show that slavery was wrong and that color did not make one person better than another. He was not a racist, but an anti-racist. This is evident through his use of regional dialect and the way he showed himself and others depicting black people in his novels. The reader must realize that the racist ideas in his novels are those of the society at that time and that Twain disputes these ideas throughout his writings.



Mark Twain on the philippines

By Jim Zwick


Critics on Mark Twain (Readings in Literary Criticism, 21)

by David B. Kesterson (Compiler)

Getting To Be Mark Twain

Jeffrey Steinbrink

August 1991

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