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Huckleberry Finn A Racist Novel? There is a major argument among literary critics whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is or is not a racist novel. The question focuses on the depiction of Jim, the black slave, and the way he is treated by Huck and other characters. The use of the word nigger is also a point raised by some critics, who feel that Twain uses the word too often and too loosely. Mark Twain never presents Jim in a negative light.
He does not show Jim as a drunkard, as a mean person, or as a cheat. This is in contrast to the way Huck's (white) father is depicted, whom Twain describes using all of the above characterizations and more. The reader views Jim as a good friend a man devoted to his family and loyal to his companions. Jim is, however, very naive and superstitious. Some critics say that Twain is implying that all blacks have these qualities. When Jim turns to his magic hairball for answers about the future, we see that he does believe in some foolish things.
But all the same, he is visited by both blacks and whites to use the hairballs powers. This type of naivete was abundant at the time and found amongst all races the result of a lack of proper education. So, the depiction of Jim is not negative in the sense that Jim is stupid and inferior, and this aspect of the story is clearly not meant as a racial slight. Next, it is necessary to analyze the way in which white characters treat Jim throughout the book.
Note that what the author felt is not the way most characters act around Jim, and his feelings are probably only conveyed through Huck. In the South during that period, black people were treated as less than humans, and Twain needed to portray this. The examples of the ways Jim is denigrated include being locked up, having to hide his face in the daytime, and being mercilessly derided. These examples are necessary for historical accuracy. So, Mark Twain had to display Jims treatment in this manner, even if it was not the way he felt. Huck, however, does not treat Jim as most whites do.
Huck sees Jim as a friend, and by the end of their journey, disagrees with society's notion that blacks are inferior. There are two main examples of this in the story. The first one is where Huck is disgusted by Jims plans to steal his own children, who are someone elses property. While Huck still seems racially prejudiced at this point, Twain has written the scene in a way that ridicules the notion that someones children can actually be the property of a stranger just because the father is black. The second example is where Huck doesnt reveal Jims whereabouts, so as not force Jim to return to slavery.
Huck instead chooses to go to hell for his decision. This is again Twain making a mockery of Southern values that considered it a sin to be kind to black people. Twain's critics consider the novel to be racist, and quite outwardly so. They cite the common use of the word nigger, as the most obvious instance of the books racism. This, however, is not a good example because this is how blacks were referred to then. To have used the words Negro or African-American would have taken away from the storys impact, and would make it sound ridiculous.
If Twain wanted to write a historically accurate book as he did then the inclusion of this word is totally necessary. A closer reading also reveals Twain's serious satiric intent. In one scene, for instance, Aunt Sally hears of a steamboat explosion. Good gracious! anybody hurt? she asks.
Nom, comes the answer, Killed a nigger. But anyone who imagines that Mark Twain meant this literally is missing the point. Rather, Twain is using this casual dialogue ironically, as a way to underscore the chilling truth about the old south that it was a society where perfectly nice people didnt consider the death of a black person worth their notice. To drive the point home, Twain has the lady continue: Well, its lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt. But what is the book really about? Its about nothing less than striving for and attaining freedom.
Its about a slave who breaks the law and risks his life to win his freedom and be reunited with his family, and a white boy who befriends him and helps him in escape. As a result of his upbringing, the boy starts out believing that slavery is part of the natural order. However, as the story unfolds he wrestles with his conscience, and when the crucial moment arises, he decides he will be damned to the flames of hell rather than betray his black friend. Moreover, Jim, as Twain presents him, is hardly a caricature. Rather, he is the moral center of the book, a man of courage and nobility, who risks his freedom and his life for the sake of his friend, Huck. These claims that Huckelberry Finn is a racist novel are not simply attempts to damage the image of a great novel.
They come from people who are hurt by racism and do not like seeing it in any context. However, they must realize that this novel and its author are not racially prejudiced at all. Rather, Huckelberry Finn is an unbiased literary classic that has become one of the most well read American titles of all time. Bibliography twain, mark. Huck finn, dostoyevsky, 1995
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