Friday, May 1, 2009

Banned Book: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Rafting down the Mississippi river with a runaway slave, Huckleberry Finn comes to see the hypocrisy of antebellum society.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens' (a.k.a Mark Twain) classic story about a young ruffian rafting down the river with a runaway slave is the original Great American Novel. According to the American library Association, it is also the 4th most commonly challenged and banned book in America.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn is just the playmate of the title character but Huck Finn's own story takes on a totally different flavor than Tom's . Although the story was set prior to the Civil War, it was actually published in post-slavery 1885.

It became the centre of controversy during Twain's lifetime for its use of "vulgar", colloquial language and because it "portrayed the South in a bad light".

More recently:

"In 2003 high school student Calista Phair and her grandmother, Beatrice Clark, in Renton, Washington, proposed banning the book from classroom learning in the Renton School District, though not from any public libraries, because of the word "nigger". Clark filed a request with the school district in response to the required reading of the book, asking for the novel to be removed from the English curriculum. The two curriculum committees that considered her request eventually decided to keep the novel on the 11th grade curriculum, though they suspended it until a panel had time to review the novel and set a specific teaching procedure for the novel and its controversial topics."

In 2007 Ibrahim Mohamed, a North Richland Hills, Texas, student, requested the word “nigger” be changed to “the N-word”. According to him, the teacher responded by asking him, “Does it offend you? It hurts, doesn’t it?” A group called “The Coalition to Stop the N-Word” requested the school board send a written apology to the family, give sensitivity training to all the teachers, and ban the book based on the feelings of the Mohamed family. In response, the school board said it would try to find better ways in which to present the novel and its controversial content to students.[28]

n 2009 a Washington state high school teacher called for the removal of the novel from a school curriculum. The teacher, John Foley, called for replacing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a more modern novel.[29] In an opinion column that Foley wrote in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, he states that all "novels that use the ‘N-word’ repeatedly need to go".



I couldn't disagree with Foley more. It is no coincidence that some of the most important literary works on race repeatedly use "nigger". Not only does Mark Twin use it, but William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker all make their characters say "nigger". Central to the discussion of race in America is the discussion of its use in art & conversation. The idea that schools shouldn't use these books in their classroom because of political correctness just pisses me off, especially knowing that so many kids watch videos and listen to music that uses the word. All of this is covered under the basic human right of free speech. This right is so important because it allows the discussion and free flow of ideas. Stifle it and you have silenced the voice of racial history in the classroom.

13 comments:

Miss_Nobody said...

This is a banned book?Its a classic!What happened to freedom of speech?And its fiction!Its a book,a good book!I can't believe this.I loved it!!
Oh,hey,I left you an award on my blog :)

Book pusher said...

Great post, I recently read a old kids sci fi novel because I was captivated by the cover art and it also contained language I was uncomfortable with, particularly a word that today is loaded with offense but at the time the author wrote this book the word did not have the offensive weight it carries today, reading the book was an interesting immersion in cultural history as much as anything else. I work with a TL who loves Huck Finn we talked about the racial themes, I think it presents a great opportunity to discuss the issues involved and the history, if you want to teach kids about racism and its evils this would be a great book to begin the discussion. I wish more people would realise that talking about books is the most powerful response available, not banning them, its thinking vs not thinking.

John McDonnell said...

This was one of my favorite books as a kid. It is a classic American novel, and there is so much going on in it on so many levels. I loved it for the pure storytelling when I was a kid, but later I studied it in high school and college and realized how much of 19th century America Twain was satirizing. It is a crime that people would want to ban this book. Banning a book like this because people are uncomfortable with the language? We may as well start banning all sorts of other books, including the Bible, because we don't like some of the words and concepts that are in them.

jo oliver said...

Oh my, I had no idea Huck was banned. what is the world coming to? I would never use some of the language, but like you say, one has to remember that is the way MS folks talked during that time period. Aside from that, I do not see many people trying to ban rap songs that use the word.

sharazad said...

You're right Jo, it's upsetting that people would ban this book from their school or classroom. Although, to be fair, the same people who want this book banned also complain about rap albums- hence parental advisory stickers.

Kelly W. Patterson said...

As much as it would be just as silly to ban rap songs, there isn't even a proper comparison. Mark Twain wasn't referring to people as niggers in Huck Finn. Characters in a novel he wrote were.

Emma said...

Yeah it annoys me how classic books get removed from libraries and classrooms just because times have changed. The same thing happened with the Doctor Doolittle books when my mum was a librarian, due to the subplots about the African prince.

J. Kaye said...

Your blog was mentioned as a new discovery at J. Kaye’s Book Blog by Lost in Books.

Awesome blog! Love your background!

Paul Corvus said...

Yeah, when I read that in a lit class a few years back we discussed how it was banned and did a mock-trial. Our task was to argue for it being banned, which was hard! haha. Mark Twain was a brilliant man.

jacq said...

I have a book "the adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Samuel L Clements dated back to 1896. Does anyone know how much a book like this is worth?

Samantha Mat said...

I completely agree with you. Mark Twain did not include the word to intentionally aggrivate African American's or portray the south in a "bad light." It was simply what they were referred to! An example, what if the word "American" became unacceptable and offensive in 100 years? Would every novel that ever included that word (even though they meant no harm) be banned? It does not make any sense. I am sure that the people that are so called "against" this novel know this, but they chose to ignore it. Why they would want to exclude such a culturally rich and influencial novel from modern day readers is a mystery to me.

Unknown said...

i gotta read this for school and i live in the "south" but im not southern at all and its a pain reading the half words, i know they talk like that But I HATE IT it annoys me cause i have to figure out what the are saying, i wish this book was banned at this school. :(

Anonymous said...

Before using this book in my classroom, I had the students learn about Mark Twain's own evolution when it came to ideas regarding race. We spent time looking at his editorials against lynching and his fear of publishing the one he wrote regarding events in his home state that he could never bring himself to publish. Once we established who Twain was by the time he writes Huck Finn, my students could see his purpose in presenting the story as he did.