Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I know this isn't the first time

A local school district has pulled Huck Finn from the curriculum.

I'll admit right now that I haven't read it, though I know I should. I have some questions about this whole issue. If reading it for class is okay, why not aloud? Why not acting it out? Is the N-word critical to the plot? Could a version with only *N* excised, no other changes whatsoever, be made or would that be desecrating a classic? Are people being too sensitive and seeing racism where there is simply history? Did the word have the same insulting connotation when the novel was written? Was Twain making exactly that point? Is *N* and its treatment thereof the reason it has been read for over a century?

I know kids read a lot of mediocre-or-worse stuff in school, so saying "It's better than reading (insert trendy fishwrap here)!" is irrelevant. Stick to Huck Finn.



At 9:01 AM, Blogger Barb, sfo said...

I'm a "former" English teacher and so have had occasion to read & teach this book many times over. You cannot read this book and divorce it from the history of the time. When I read it the first time, our English and History teachers made it a joint project. We were learning about the events in history, and the book in English class helped us learn more about the flavor of the time.
I'll shut up now...I could go on about this kind of stuff for far too long!

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous melanie b said...

I would say that slavery and Twain's treatment of it is certainly one of the things that makes this novel great. Twain treats the "N word" neutrally. It's simply part of the dialect and he's interested in portraying the way people actually speak. Another reason that Huck Finn was banned in the early days was that its language was "coarse" and considered inappropriate for young readers.

The book makes a concerted attack on hypocrisy, including the hypocrisy of slavery. But the thing is it's a novel not an essay or political tract and so this condemnation is not explicit in some rousing speech but implicit in the way Twain portrays the characters and in the drama of the story itself.

Jim, the escaped slave is a kind, decent man. Perhaps the most decent person in the book. But he's uneducated and superstitious, so it might be easy to miss Twain's point. It's clearest when you contrast Jim with Huck's Pap. Huck's dad beats him, steals from him and locks him up. Jim, on the other hand acts as Huck's true friend. And one of the most touching scenes in the novel is when Jim recounts how he hit his daughter when she didn't obey him only to realize she was deaf and didn't hear him. He cries at the memory and begs God's forgiveness.

I love Huck Finn. It's one of the great American novels. But the problem is nowadays few people actually read literature to hear what the author has to say and few teachers know how to teach. They come with an agenda and are only prepared to see what fits in their narrow little worldview.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I think it's more than the "N" word - that's just the excuse. I think it's really the entire character of Jim. He's a slave, uneducated, and he 'acts poor'. He also rose above it - he's not a victim, he doesn't hate all whites, and is more complex than the pigeonhole the lazy would like to put him in.
I think people are uncomfortable about the entire notion of slavery - if we need to think about it, we prefer to concentrate on the noble (and frequently literate, Northern) souls who helped make the Underground Railroad a reality.
Also, Mark Twain was quite coarse - although usually his wit had a deadly accuracy.
I, myself, was annoyed by Huck Finn, because Twain writes in dialect. I think I'd have liked it more if we had read it aloud or scene it as a performance.


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