26 June 2012
Black and White, But Not Read All Over
Two hundred and nineteen; the number of times the “n” word appears in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (“Huck Finn, Censorship and the N-Word Controversy”). One hundred and twenty-seven; the number of years since the first publishing of the novel in 1885, it has been critically named one of the most controversial novels ever written. It is the fourth most banned book in the United States from schools and libraries, ironically including Mark Twain Intermediate School (“10 Most Controversial Books”). Certain events, characters, and language in Huck Finn certainly do point towards racism and can be found offensive, but I respectfully disagree with one administrators claim that “it [teaching the book] constitutes mental cruelty, harassment, and outright racial intimidation” based on my careful analysis of the book, and in particular the relationship developed between Huck and Jim.
In 1885, Huckleberry Finn was first pulled off the shelves and banned in the Concord, Massachusetts Public Library. The librarian and other members of the committee characterized it as “rough, coarse and inelegant, . . . the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people” (“Boston Evening Transcript). After the banning at Concord, many libraries followed this precedent, banning it regularly from the children’s section. Twenty years after the publication of Huck Finn, it was also banned in Brooklyn, New York. Adults believed Huck was a bad role model for kids: he ran away, stayed dirty, used bad grammar, chewed tobacco, and never followed rules. Since the 1930’s, many libraries and schools across the nation have adopted the use of a revised Huck Finn with omitted scenes and substituted words (“The Banning of Huckleberry Finn: The Pros and Cons of the Challenge”).
Alan Gribben, a Mark Twain scholar and English professor at Auburn University is one of...