It is noteworthy that, despite being oriented on children audience primarily, Twain’s novel touches deep social problems. We discover America, in which the poetic (the vital strength, daring humor, and emotional responsiveness) does side by side with inhuman utility and cruelty. The release of the book about Huckleberry Finn, containing tragic episodes in which the young heroes reveal the real everydayness of the tullies with their feeble mind and self-interest, raised the problem of moral choice in the face of injustice, violence and racism.
Nevertheless, in recent years in the United States the attempts have been made to ban the novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, paradoxically, due to the naturalistic descriptions and verbal expressions that offend African Americans. Although Twain was against racism and imperialism, and in his rejection of these phenomena he went even further than his contemporaries, his books do have expressions that in our time can be perceived as racist. Many of the terms that were in common use at the time of Mark Twain, now really sound like racial offences.
It should be noted that the attitude to the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as to a politically incorrect book is a relatively recent phenomenon. When it appeared, it was read adequately – as a very liberal and anti-racist book. Historically, this was certainly a huge leap compared to the other, equally popular book of the 19th century – “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Of course, Mark Twain wrote the novel about the American South of the 1840’s, where the word “nigger” was on everyone’s lips – among both whites and African Americans – and he just could not do without it, but it is perceived really painfully by modern readers. However, making the conclusions based on this about Mark Twain being a racist, even unconscious racist as some critics suggest, is quite nonsense because all the pathos of the book is absolutely anti-racist.
Huckleberry Finn is clearly not a racist, therefore he finally does not report on a refugee slave to the slave-owner, despite the laws of the Southern society. In one of the scenes of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Huck first regrets that he did not squeal on a runaway slave Jim to his owner, a good and poor widow Watson, though he was taught that squealing on fugitive slaves was his Christian duty. Huck even starts writing a letter to the widow. However, he does not send the letter at once, he sits down with it and start to think it over, while Jim keeps walking back and forth on a raft in front of him. Huck thinks that on the other hand he was wrong when he rescued Jim and lied that Jim was his father, who had smallpox. However, Huck realizes that by that time he was seeing Jim day and night for a long time, and sometimes they were sleeping back to back to keep warm at night, so he tears the letter into parts (Twain 176-78).
Another wonderful example of Mark Twain’s irony is when aunt Sally hears a steam boiler explosion on the river and asks if it hurt somebody. She is answered: “No ma’am, nigga killed”. Then Sally says that it is good that it finished this way, as in fact, sometimes people can die. This is surely a terrible sarcasm, which reveals the real feelings of Mark Twain more than anything else in his book about freedom (Twain 79).
In addition, it is easy to notice that, that white people in the novel are either alcoholics and thieves or human traffickers. The only honest person in this phantasmagoria is “Nigger Jim”, who was named this way by Mark Twain in order to emphasize the irony of the society in which the only true gentleman looked like a laughingstock.
Mark Twain knew well that people are not equal. Not equal in their spiritual qualities, energy, talent. Some stand higher on this scale, the others below. But he was too observant person to accept an artificial inequality – by birth, by religion, by nationality, by race. In his youth he traveled widely in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands. He spent his childhood among the black slaves, because his own family owned several slaves. And, in fact, he did not see much difference between people, at whatever stage of civilization they were. Do you remember one of his most famous sayings? Clothes make the man. Naked people have no influence in society. What created classes and castes in the society and divided people by an impassable chasm, to Mark Twain seemed an insignificant trifle.
Mark Twain’s book today remains relevant and is ambiguously perceived by the audience and critics. Perhaps, the reason for this is that the novel exposes one of the darkest sides of the national history of the USA which even today cannot escape from the consequences of racial clashes causing an uncomfortable feeling among the reading and thinking audience. It is easy to find flaws in this novel, but its moral side remains the most important. Indeed, any criticism of this Mark Twain’s largest novel about modern life would be like a simple scratch on the granite of enduring structure.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Simon & Brown, 2011. Print.
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