Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn yesterday and thought that was quite fortuitous timing, since yesterday was the first day of Banned Books Week, and Huck has been one of the most banned/censored books in America.

Huck is commonly banned because of its frequent use of the "N" word. But what would the dissenters ask that Twain call black people in his book? He can't call them African Americans, that's for sure, and issue would probably be taken with anything he called them. It's a part of America's oft-times ugly history and slavery and racism are sad and ugly things. But in the interest of realism and of accurately expressing the era in which the book is set, and the society that Jim and Huck are up against, why should Twain be censored? 

Instead of censoring Huck for the "N" word, why isn't the focus on what I think is the true beauty of the novel? Despite the teachings ingrained in Huck by society, by his elders,  the church, even, that black people are inferior and need--even desire--the guidance and protection of slavery, he makes up his own mind. At the crucial point of the novel, when Huck is faced with the choice to help Jim achieve freedom or leave him to slavery, he makes the right decision. What makes it even more powerful is that, because of what society taught, he thinks he is damning himself for helping Jim:

I was trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell.'

I think that the hardest thing a person can do--and probably because it's the hardest, it's also the best thing a person can do--is stand up for what is right alone. I love watching Huck come to this conclusion. He grows slowly throughout the novel, until he comes to the place where his heart discerns right and he finds the courage to act on it.

It reminds me of this quotation from 1984:

Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.
Instead of focusing on the use of a racially-offensive term that was widely in use in the setting of the novel, the focus should be on Huck's discernment and his ability to think for himself. And that he finds the courage to do the right thing even against his whole world.

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