Racism In Huckleberry Finn Essay

Racism In Huckleberry Finn Essay-88
Those voices can greatly enrich students' understanding of both the issues Huckleberry Finn raises and the vernacular style in which it raises them. It is a book that puts on the table the very questions the culture so often tries to bury, a book that opens out into the complex history that shaped it -- the history of the ante-bellum era in which the story is set, and the history of the post-war period in which the book was written -- and it requires us to address that history as well. Indeed, it is to avoid confronting the raw pain of that history that black parents sometimes mobilize to ban the novel.Brushing history aside, however, is no solution to the larger challenge of dealing with its legacy.

Those voices can greatly enrich students' understanding of both the issues Huckleberry Finn raises and the vernacular style in which it raises them. It is a book that puts on the table the very questions the culture so often tries to bury, a book that opens out into the complex history that shaped it -- the history of the ante-bellum era in which the story is set, and the history of the post-war period in which the book was written -- and it requires us to address that history as well. Indeed, it is to avoid confronting the raw pain of that history that black parents sometimes mobilize to ban the novel.Brushing history aside, however, is no solution to the larger challenge of dealing with its legacy.

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Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Professor of American Studies and English at the University of Texas, is the author of Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1997) and Was Huck Black?

Mark Twain and African American Voices (Oxford University Press, 1993).

"We have ground the manhood out of them," Twain wrote Dean Wayland on Christmas Eve, 1885, "and the shame is ours, not theirs, & we should pay for it." Ask your students: why does a writer who holds these views create a narrator who is too innocent and ignorant to challenge the topsy-turvy moral universe that surrounds him?

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell," Huck says when he decides not to return Jim to slavery.

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Neither is placing the task of dealing with it on one book. But they don't require you to look the perpetrators of that evil in the eye and find yourself looking at a kind, gentle, good-hearted Aunt Sally.

We continue to live, as a nation, in the shadow of racism while being simultaneously committed, on paper, to principles of equality. They don't make you understand that it was not the villains who made the system work, but the ordinary folks, the good folks, the folks, who did nothing more than fail to question the set of circumstances that surrounded them, who failed to judge that evil as evil and who deluded themselves into thinking they were doing good, earning safe passage for themselves into heaven.

If we lived in a world in which racism had been eliminated generations before, teaching Huck Finn would be a piece of cake. The difficulties we have teaching this book reflect the difficulties we continue to confront in our classrooms and our nation.

As educators, it is incumbent upon us to teach our students to decode irony, to understand history, and to be repulsed by racism and bigotry wherever they find it. It's unfair to force one novel to bear the burden -- alone -- of addressing these issues and solving these problems.

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