To Teach or Not to Teach: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In today’s society, people often feel morally responsible to stifle their opinions or thoughts out of fear that others may find their interpretations to be insensitive or offensive.

Recognition of what hurts specific people and groups may be helpful, in that it can allow society to move past its previously harsh words and actions. However, when people are allegedly mindful of others, in order to exonerate themselves of any social responsibility or guilt, completely not considering any efforts to extricate certain groups from uncomfortable situations, the overall condition of society becomes worse, even if people think they are being mindful in the first place. This complex dilemma society faces manifests itself into the modern literature world, particularly highlighted through national book bans. Mark Twain’s iconic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been a subject of controversy for years, with people debating in relentless cycles whether or not the book should be taught in schools across a country still coping with the presence of white supremacy. I believe that ultimately, no good can come from the sheltering of a revealing, authentic novel, like Huck Finn, from young student readers. While harsh realities are illuminated in Twain’s non-romanticized memoir of a biracial friendship, these are realities nonetheless that serve to drive social progress toward a direction of true social and institutional equality.

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The most response-demanding feature of Mark Twain’s novel is the inclusion of the N-word in Huck’s, the protagonist’s, everyday language. Proponents of Huck Finn’s inclusion in nation-wide curriculums often argue the insignificance of one mere word in the grander theme of the novel. I agree that one word should not dictate support for such a giving novel. However, I tend to disagree with the reasoning of these aforementioned proponents because the N-word is not just a phrase we can turn our heads to and pretend it does not hurt our black sisters and brothers. A word that historically and socially was used to keep black people “in their place” of subservience cannot just be seen as another word to direct our eyes away from. So critics of the novel have a point?the N-word should not be tolerated.

But this point is against the N-word itself, not the novel or its content. Therefore, it only seems reasonable to share with young students a novel that exactly demonstrates to them how derogatory and dirty that word really is. This way, the N-word as a means to say “what’s up” to kids’ friends, black and white, would seem as wrong as it really is. It wouldn’t seem trendy to use that word in song or speech as it is now, because students would know that the term was used to perpetuate the destruction of black bodies. It would be uncool to be the one putting Black Americans down through the use of the N-word as slang, not the other way around.

This is one of the many things The Adventures of Huck Finn educates readers about. The presence of the N-word in Twain’s novel, the characterization of Jim as an uneducated, almost foolish being, the triumph of the white Huckleberry Finn, and the validation of black worth only when the observer is white convey all the wrong messages of race relations, which are antithetical to equality. However, the revelation of these conditions that were realities for black people in the United States invites readers to try and fathom the depth of oppression experienced by the black race. Critics feel the deeply imbedded, physical and spiritual tearing down on Black America would make black youth uncomfortable. But it would also make white youth feel uncomfortable with the entitlements and disasters handed to people based on their skin color, which could have the potential of dismantling senses of privilege among future white generations and inspire them to work so that African Americans don’t have to endure such unfair hardships by virtue of their skin color. In other words, if youth had more tangible ideas on how far imbedded in systems racism really was and continues to be, they would have greater senses of direction to follow to dismantle white supremacy in all its forms.

They wouldn’t have saturated, allegedly color blind views of society’s race set up. I am very thankful to have been given the opportunity to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in my high school English class because I am able to better appreciate now the vast power this particular work of literature has in the race relation realm of education. Educational experiences are vital parts of children’s development not only as academics, but also as human beings with senses of responsibility for their interconnected counterparts. Twain’s novel emphasizes the importance of senses of justice within each person in order for him or her to recognize humanity as it really stands. Therefore, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be read by young readers in order to spark this same sense of social responsibility among new generations to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself yet again. I often wonder how many more times we are going to let ourselves go through periods of history we can relate the horrors of another with.

From Jim’s time in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to Tom Robinson’s in To Kill a Mockingbird, to Michael Brown’s today, the same themes of disunity among the one, human race have echoed. How much longer will history repeat itself for? Mark Twain calls us to not wait a raft ride, a conversation, or a generation more.