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The Huck Finn QUestion Essay, Research Paper

Controversy and Conflict: The Huck Finn Question

It was born into controversy in 1885 as Samuel Clemens published his

newest writing entitled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It immediately

sparked debate and outrage that still continues to this day. This book, some

critics contend, is a grotesque example of racist trash. Citing numerous

examples, such as the treatment of minorities, the objectionable language

displayed by the characters, and the unfair portrayal of Southerners, these critics

believe that this book is worthy of being banned from all schools. Still, other critics

maintain that this novel is a true treasure of American literature that gives a

realistic portrayal of the times. This same group of critics also argue that this

novel promotes racial unity and cooperation. How could such a novel give birth

to such contrasting viewpoints? Are both arguments valid? Should such a

controversial novel be taught in schools today? This essay will examine both

arguements and point out each side?s logical points and flawed reasonings.

Afterwards, it will discuss whether or not this book should be taught in schools

today, the Huckleberry Finn question.

A large number of critics contend that the book Huckleberry Finn is racist

trash not fit for the classroom. For example, John H. Wallace described the

assignment to read the book best when he said:

?..the assignment and reading aloud of Huckleberry Finn in our

classrooms is humiliating and insulting to black students… (Wallace, The

Case Against Huck Finn Pp. 17)?

This is a valid argument against the book Huckleberry Finn for many

reasons. For example, Aunt Sally asks Huck about his trip after he arrives at her

house. Huck goes on to describe an accident which occurred while on the boat in

which an African-American worker was killed.

In response to this story, Aunt Sally commented:

?Well, it?s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt in these things.

(Twain, Pp. 216)?

Aunt Sally goes on to say how a similar accident happened to a white man,

but, when she discussed this story, she showed a great deal more concern for the

victim. This last piece shows how lowly blacks were regarded at this time, to the

point of being considered highly expendable. Such a degredation of blacks in the

classroom should not be tolerated if possible. This story also illustrates the

inferior role that blacks were expected to take to whites. Despite the fact that this

book is over 100 years old, its racist overtones are still uncomfortable to blacks

today. In addition, the frequent use of the word ?nigger? nearly 250 times is

extremely offensive to the African-American population, regarding an entire race of

people as trash because of their skin?s coloring. Because of this total degradation

of blacks, this offensive book, critics argue, should be banned from schools.

On the other hand, not all arguments for banning this book can be so easily

justified. Julius Lester wrote the following argument against Huck Finn:

?While I am opposed to book banning, I know that my children?s

education will not be enhanced by reading this book (Lester, Pp.200)?

This argument is not totally accurate. From the quote above, Lester is

saying that his children will learn absolutely nothing from this novel. That

statement is faulty and untrue. Twain?s novel informs its reader about a variety of

topics. For example, slavery and its evil effects are prevalent throughout the entire

book. A child reading this book could easily pick up on the evils of slavery and life

for African-Americans back in the nineteenth century. Besides the subject of

slavery, a reader could learn about the great advances that have been made in

racial equality since the time that the book was written. Back in Twain?s time, it

was uncommon for a black to be able to vote or even own property, but, today

blacks enjoy largely the same rights and privileges that whites do. Therefore, a

reader reading Huckleberry Finn could learn about a number of informative topics.

This point illustrates the fact that not all arguments by anti-Twain activists are


A large group of opposing critics consider this novel to be a ?classic? and

demand that it be made required reading at all schools. These critics use several

arguments to justify this demand. One of the most prominent arguments is,

?Its satirical mode forces us to recognize the inconsistencies in our

moral consciousness (Nichols, Pp. 210)?

Nichols? arguement is one of the strongest in favor of Huckleberry Finn.

This arguement illustrates his point that the main theme of this novel is to show its

reader that times have been much worse and that we didn?t always enjoy the

freedoms we take for granted today. This is very true. For example, Pap, Huck?s

father, is a blatant racist and displays it often. A main example is when he rants

and raves because they allowed a black man to vote. He bellows,

?But when they told me that there was a state in this country where

they?d let that nigger vote, I drawed out (Twain, Pp. 35)?

By reading this passage, the reader can get a sense of what is was like

back in the early nineteenth century before blacks were freed, illustrating the

differences between our times and times one hundred years ago. From this

statement, the reader can learn and be thankful that man has stopped such

practices and ?evolved? to a more tolerant society. Another example of the theme

of society?s improvement towards racial equality is shown when Sherburn killed

Boggs in cold blood. A local lynch mob comes to hang Sherburn and a near-riot

situation ensues. An event like this shows the reader how man has changed and

bettered himself from his ancestors. Today, we give accused killers rights, ?due

process of law?, and proceed in a more ?civilized? manner. These differences

between now and over one hundred years ago show the reader how the human

race has advanced. If this novel can teach its reader about the evils of the past,

then, perhaps, such evils will not happen again. To summarize, the

aforementioned examples are all good reasons why Huckleberry Finn is an

acceptable novel to be taught in schools and should not be banned.

Despite the many arguments in favor of this novel, some of these

arguments are unjustified. For example, Charles H. Nichols, a supporter of Huck

Finn argues that:

?…it [The book] reaffirms the values of our democratic faith, our

celebration of the individual, however poor, ignorant, or despised…?

This argument is highly illogical when closely examined and compared to

passages in the book. When Huck first meets Jim, Jim tells of the reasons he has

run away from Miss Watson. During that conversation, he says:

?…I hear old missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to

Orleans, (Twain, Pp 50)?

This quote reveals the evils of slavery back in the early 1800?s of America.

Slavery in those times was harsh and brutal. Slaves were forced to do

back-breaking labor and were often times treated like animals. Yet, this critic says

that Huck Finn is a celebration of the individual. This is blatantly contradictory.

How can the idea of one man being able to enslave another a ?celebration of the

individual?? In addition, when the Duke and the Dauphin prey on the orphans of a

dead father in order to swindle their inheritance, Huck commented:

?It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human

race. (Twain, Pp. 162)?

This example also shows how humans mistreated, wronged, and harmed

each other to gain personal wealth and power. This also goes against the idea of

?celebrating the individual? as a unique and special being. These wrong points

illustrate the fact that not all arguments for the promotion of this book are


There are many arguments and issues that surround this novel. It has

been called a racist and vulgar piece of trash. It has been praised as an honest

and realistic interpretation of the nineteenth century. Because of these continuing

controversies and opposing viewpoints, this book has been banned by a number

of school districts around the country. Others take the book as required reading

because of its ?classic? status. Should this book be banned in every single school

in the country. The answer is ?no?. Should this book be required reading in

schools? The answer is ?no? as well. This book, because of its controversial

nature and contrasting viewpoints, should be neither banned nor required. This

book should be set aside in a school?s library as ?independent reading? for those

interested in the opportunity to read it. With this solution, no one is offended by it,

and, no one is denied the right to read it. This solution may seem dissatisfactory

to those who want it banned, but, there are books that are far more vulgar and

grotesque worth banning. Conversely, there are seemingly endless stacks of

other ?classic? books and writings to teach and learn besides this novel.

Therefore, the answer to the Huck Finn question, whether to keep this novel in

schools or not, is to try to understand both sides of the debate and come to a

compromise agreeable to both sides. Perhaps that was the lesson that Mark

Twain was trying to teach us the whole time.

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