Friday, April 16, 2010

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

When I first picked up this book, it was summer reading for an AP English class. In fact, that was also how I found out it was so controversial, quote unquote. I was waiting for my clothes to dry in the laundromat when this nice-looking woman next to me asked me what I was reading it for. I told her, and she asked me if I knew the debate over the use of the N-word in the book. She directed me to websites where kids my age were discussing it, and while I appreciated the conversation, I thought little of it... after all, I was reading it myself and I could definitely see past the 212 mentions of that word to read the bigger message.

Unfortunately, not everyone can. The book about young hero Huck being kidnapped by his drunken father and escaping with a runaway slave was pulled from Taylor, Mich. schools because of the racial epithets, and it was also challenged in schools in Renton, Wash. and Normal, Ill. for being "degrading to African-Americans." In fact, a student complained the book offended her- and the NAACP has also striven to ban the book. All of this from the mere fact that in the time period Mark Twain was alive and writing, the use of the N-word was prevalent.

Let's face it, this could well be a means to compensate for the centuries of slavery and oppression African-Americans have faced. If it is, well... it's just misplaced. See, the people doing the censoring make it seem as though Mark Twain was pro-slavery, which it certainly doesn't seem like he was. In fact, if you read the book, easily the most sympathetic character was Jim, the runaway slave who is set free by Huck at the end of the novel. He's the epitome of goodness despite being a fugitive, whereas practically all of the scoundrels in the book- Huck's father, the con artists that Huck and Jim run into- are white. Hmm. That doesn't sound very racist to me.

Whatever the case may be, this is still a classic book, and it definitely shouldn't be shelved. It's not as much about the plain-as-day storyline itself as it is about a bigger journey: realizing what is good and what isn't, and that things aren't always as they seem.

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