Don't censor Huckleberry Finn- a view of Huck should it be censored?


Occidental Publishing Co. flyer for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Recent developements

Starting out the year of 2011 the latest attempt to tamper with a classic American literary work is to change the wording. A new addition intends to change the The N-word to "slave."

This, in my opinion is worse than banning the book. Words do make a difference. Slave would not fit the context in many cases. It would be better if the publisher put in a forward explaing the context of the meaning and the usage of the day.

In the classroom that should be the job of the teacher to explain to the students about the context of the times and how the word is used in the text.

I have included in the hub a link to a Christian Science Monitor article on the subject.

Huck and Jim on a Raft by E.W. Kemble 1884 edition.
Huck and Jim on a Raft by E.W. Kemble 1884 edition. | Source

Please! Let's not censor

I don’t understand or like the trend toward censorship in recent years, often by the very people who preach against it. The primary example I think of is the book “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Furthermore it disturbs me.

Twain’s book is certainly a classic and considered so beyond just American literature. According to the writer Earnest Hemingway, Huckleberry Finn was the beginning of American literature. I first noticed the calls for censoring the book several years ago when I read newspaper articles about some mother who objected to the “n” word being in it. No indication that she had either read or understood the book. Never mind that the theme of the book was anti-slavery word has to be looked at in context. Did it have the same meaning then that it does now? Probably not.

It puts me in mind of a SF story I read in which the hero goes back in time and has a conversation with Mark Twain. He mentions something about black people and Mark Twain gets upset and angry and scolds the hero for using such a derogatory word.

I found it really weird when this controversy came up that educators felt they had to have national seminars about how to “teach” the novel. I am not a teacher but I had considered the possibility of becoming one. I fully expected that if I did, by the time I studied literature and teaching methods and practice teaching I would know how to present a classic book to students.  However, I did later work with a woman whom has a degree in English and who me she had not read Mark Twain. I was amazed.

Possibly they may be introducing Huckleberry Finn at the wrong level. I didn’t study it until college, although I had occasion to write three term papers on it for different classes–English, History and American studies humanities course. Although Twain started writing it as a boy’s book like Tom Sawyer it turned out to be a more serious and mature book than he had started out with. To understand all that is going on in either book it would be helpful to have at least had courses in American History. I t should also be remembered that Huck is a young uneducated boy. A boy who is an outcast of the community, the son of the town drunk who runs away from an abusive father. He meets up with and teams with Jim, a runaway slave.  Together they take a raft down the river to escape to freedom in the North.

It is something of an existential trip, in that Huck is faced with choices and responsibility for those choices. “Heavy” as my son would have said at that age. Gradually Huck comes to realize that by befriending a runaway slave he is going against the law and society in general. This leads to a crisis of conscience. His conscience tells him that he is doing evil. I wrestled with this concept in one paper I wrote and failed to express it adequately. From the standpoint of my own religion Huck conscience was not properly formed. His ideas came from bad information Later, what I see has his “right conscience” tells him that saving Jim is the right thing to do, although he has much confusion. Don’t forget he is only about fourteen years old and not very sophisticated even for that age. This was the point where he becomes a hero.

Critics have complained that Twain is using a “Minstrel show” stereotype with Jim. Twain noted that “The odd superstitions touched upon were all prevalent among children and slaves in the West at the period of the story, that is to say, thirty or forty years ago.”  In other words, his own childhood. He was not operating from stereotypes, his characters were based on people he knew.
In the introduction to the Wordsworth Classics Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn the editor says “In Huckleberry Finn, especially, Twain makes clear his revulsion from the institution of slavery . . . ” More than anything the book portrays Jim as a dignified person. And the two characters get to understand each other after some bumpy experiences. 

The book should be read for a deeper understanding of what race relation were like on a personal level.

How do you feel about banning or changing Huckleberry Finn

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Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

I totally agree with you! Using the word Black would have been a derogatory term when I was growing up just as describing an Oriental person as Yellow or an American Indian person as Red. Now, of course, that is the preferred word over Negro that I was first taught.

Actually...except for purposes of describing as in a crime scene or in a novel for illustrative would be lovely to see people as people...not define them by the color of their skin or eyes or stature and the like.

Banning or censoring books without READING them and understanding the context of the time in which they were written is just throwing history away in my opinion.

I loved both books, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. You made some excellent points with this hub.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Peggy W.

Thanks for your comments. It's interesting that Twain thought "Joan of Arc" was going to be his masterpiece and Huckleberry Finn was just another boy's book. It turned out the other way.

25BAR 6 years ago

He's the best!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Billap profile image

Billap 6 years ago

Let's be clear. The main reason that people try to ban things is that they fear them. So what are the people who want to ban Huck Finn afraid of? The "n" word? I don't think so.

I think they are afraid of the the crucial passage where Huck, in deciding whether to turn in Jim as a runaway slave, decides to go against everything that his society believes and choose love and compassion instead. It is a grueling moment for Huck, but he decides to turn his back on his "cultural heritage" and opt for simple humanity.

But it's the way he expresses it that really frightens the banners. "Alright then—I'll GO to hell!"

That's what they don't want to hear, or let their children hear. Because then they and their children would really have to THINK about the things they believe, rather than just follow the crowd. They would have to become responsible for their beliefs, rather than let others determine their beliefs for them.

And having to think hard and be responsible for your choices—that's intolerable, isn't it?

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the insights. My real problem with the critic in the education community is why are they charged with teaching things they do not understand.

PAPA-BEAR profile image

PAPA-BEAR 6 years ago from London England UK

There is in our so called enlightened world a dumming down of writing. Censoring is a political tool, it should be called political correctness. Sadly we must remove all references to anything for it may offend. Living being lands from outer space, peace, he leaves happy waving flag.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for your comment. Twain didn't really let censorship bother him, as he said it helped to sell books.Your right about it being political now.

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I find it hard to believe that anyone nowadays would want to censor a Mark Twain masterpiece. It was once banned in the south because it appeared to be too anti-slavery and, to my way of thinking, too pro-freedom. Jim does not speak very good English but neither does his companion yet Jim is far from being a simpleton. He does show intelligence and is far from being a clown in a minstrel show. Yes, agreed, Jim does have his dignity and his desire to get away from being owned comes across as very real. I hate political correctness for this very reason. It harks back to George Orwell's warning in his novel 1984. It is a very slippery slope to be on. Best not to be on it at all.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for your comments which I agree with. The people who tend to want to censor usually have not read the book. Somebody was bothered by one word, which was acceptable when the book was written. What bothered me is that teachers did not know how to deal with it. What do they study in college?

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I am not an American so I can't say about American colleges.In Australia for 19th Century American literature we studied, among other novels, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.I think A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Twain was also there. The lecturer we had wanted us to immerse ourselves in 19th Century American culture as we got stuck into the reading. I remember she had a corn cob pipe.

I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn about a year later when I was out of college and before entering university. I found it a fun, enjoyable meandering read. I liked the way Twain poked fun at the notion of royalty and at 19th Century romanticism.

As a writer Twain had noticed the recent British leaning toward using real spoken language of ordinary people in dialogue in British novels and could see nothing particularly wrong with using the regular speech of regular Americans. He thought to extend this beyond just dialogue.

Anyway, you want to understand 19th Century America one of the writers you get stuck into has to be Twain. My thoughts at any rate.

Yes, the teachers who want to censor Twain rather than explain what he is doing should think again.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Your observations are interesting and ,again, I agree. I admit ignorance of your educations system and don't know the difference between college and University.In the United States they both represent post high school education.As I understand it a University also offers post graduate courses, that is beyond a Bachelors Degree.To add confusion vocational schools are now called colleges, probably to be eligible for student aid funds.

It is not teachers who want to censor this book. It is more a political thing. My comments refer back several years to the fact that teachers across the country felt it necessary to have meeting to discuss how to teach the book. My feeling is that if they don't know, they have no business teaching.

I had a coworker with a degree in English literature, though,who had never read the book. Apparently English majors do not study American literature.

What ever the case Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twin represent the start of an American literature as opposed to an extension of English literature and language.

I did not know about the English leaning to everyday language.There were other writers doing what Twain was doing who are not as well known, such as Artemus Ward.

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Colleges in Australia tend to become universities when they get the funding to do so. Generally speaking there isn't much difference between what a teacher college has to offer and a university.

Stephen Crane was writing before Mark Twain or, if you count the frog race, then around the same time. Crane used as much real dialogue as was allowed at the time by publishers and censors. Realism was what he was aiming for. Swearing was not allowed but he got around this by inventing his own language. Goldarned instead of God damned and so forth. People could read between the lines and work out what the people he was writing about were really saying. He didn't, however, have common language intrude into the prose he wrote.

Algernon Blackwood is another 19th Century writer who, though born in England, spent a lot of time in the USA but he is only just 19th Century. He wrote his best stuff from 1889 onwards but he did touch upon the American Civil War. Another great writer of the 19th Century and an American was Edgar Allan Poe. Truth to tell growing up I thought Poe had to be English by the way he wrote and his general subject matter. Boy was I surprised to discover he was American. I doubt if given the opportunity of meeting one another Twain would have gotten along with him at all.

Yes I can see where you say Twain was the beginning of an American literature. There was a cultural cringe and American writers were generally trying to copy the way British writers wrote. Twain was probably the first writer not only to laugh at this cultural cringe but also to poke fun at it in his writing.

Thomas Hardy with his novel Far from the Madding Crowd is a good example of an English novel where ordinary people speak the dialect of where they live rather than polished English.

I have heard of Artemus Ward but I haven't read any of his writing.

Here in Australia an English major is supposed to study Australian, English and American literature. I would like to think that in the USA the same would also hold true though perhaps not the study of Australian literature.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Earnest Hemingway Who was popular in my day(1950-1960's)said that American literature started with one book--Huckleberry Finn. Poe, I am told, was more popular in France than in America.

We don't really have "teachers" colleges anymore, as they have been incorporated into Universities, I think. At least that was true in Minnesota.

I appreciate the information. If you haven't already, I suggest you write a hub about this.

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

You are welcome when it comes to the information. My own hub on American literature isn't a bad idea. Thanks for the fan mail.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I look forward to seeing it.

TrueBlueSue profile image

TrueBlueSue 6 years ago from Lakeland FL

This has to do only with the censorship issue in this article.

I come from a very rural area quite close to Salem IL. We had no black people in that area when I was growing up simply because they chose not to be there I would think. I don't think that there was any predjudice or anything because I never heard anything about it being spoken. To this day southern IL is not one of the favorite places in the country for people to live.

Anyway one of my favorite stories when I was small that my Mom read to me was Little Black Sambo. It was banned many years before Tom and Huck.

There were no "N" words in it as I recall.

Strange is it not that things like that are banned and taken as offensive but yet references to Indian as in Tonto are not? It is just accepted that wording has evolved.

I remember when I was about 8 or 9 watching a parade with my G'Ma and there being some sort of a military dressed group that were marching and twirling guns. Grandma placed her hand over my eyes and told me not to look at as she phrased it "Those Darkies." I had no concept of who what or why she would act in this type of manner....still don't.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for your comments. My concern about the Huck Finn controversy was that those involved did not take the words in context. Sambo, like blackface, is objected to because it presents a stereotype, I think.There is some objection to Tonto although most people don't know that the name is derogatory. I only heard that in an Indian History course.

prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 6 years ago from Tumkur

This is the right thought. Mark Twain's writings are loved by all of us. There is nothing political or relegiously offending point in it. Hence it should not be censored.

pick807 profile image

pick807 6 years ago

I loved Huckleberry Finn. I wish we could go back to the time when you could be a kid without all the pc crap or over-parenting and nanny government watching everything we do. It would be awesome just to be free to do anything you want without the media, government and the internet to broadcast it around the world.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Thanks for commenting. This article was largely regarding newspaper accounts some time ago about the teaching community not knowing how to deal with the complaint of one woman who objected to the use ao a word used by Twain.It was followed with wanting to take the book out of the schools.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Huckleberry Finn represents something we all long for.The book does portray some rather unpleasant aspects of life at that time, however. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

izettl profile image

izettl 6 years ago from The Great Northwest

I need to go back and re-read the classics like Huck Finn. I remember having to read it well before high school or college, perhaps it should be introduced later, but students should not be deprived of it. Great hub.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

It is an important book in American Literature.Twain started out writing it as a boys book but it became much more.I think I read it and wrote papers on it in three different classes. I believe it was English, History andporbably a Humanities course. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Sadly, its the books that can teach us the most that end up getting banned. Your hub - and the comments - are right on. People cry out for "freedom of speech," yet when a book doesn't meet so-called standards of political correctness, they blindly try to keep it out of the population's hands. Great, thought-provoking hub.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Political correctness has become "group think" something out of 1984, I think. Thanks for your comment.

bruzzbuzz profile image

bruzzbuzz 6 years ago from Texas , USA

It also seems that some people cry out for censorship as a way to fulfill their need for a power trip. I read Huck Finn as a young boy and it made me want to continue reading. I wonder if I would have the same love for reading if I was growing up in today's world and did not have Huck Finn to read because some over protective power tripping mommy had it taken from the school library.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Huck will survive as did the author. Mark Twain joked that being banned in Boston only boosted his book sales.Thanks for your input.

Noel  6 years ago

What next? Burn books you don't find palatable? This politically correct revisionist crap has got no place here. You don't like the word nigger, don't use it. But to erase it from a context in a piece of literature is small minded and miopic and even evil. It's just a word. It only has power if you give it power. This gives it absolute power. Who are the retards that come up with this shit? Unbelievable!

159357 6 years ago

People should just accept the book...people are just complicated and making a big deal of one word that in those times was not that bad. Now people use it for bad things and come America can go back to the way it used to be...with the 50 cents to buy food and people just having a great in the roaring 20s.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Thanks for reading and commenting.I'm afraid that those who find fault with a book like this are not inclined toward understanding truth.

ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

dahoglund another thought provoking Hub, my friend! Any writing in its historical context could be censored or banned if one wanted to search for a reason to do so. Taking a story and trying to redo it is completely absurd. People have done this with Bible, making it gender neutral, when clearly the original text specifies it should be read as male. How about censoring "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" because I am against birds being caged up so there I find it offensive. Absurd! Thanks! Shared!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

ajwrites, I agre with your observation. I think an ironic aspect of all this is that Mark Twain would probably be delighted by it. He said something to the effect that being banned in Boston was worth an additional large number of copies sold. He also liked to tweak those who did censoring.

Those who get distracted by the word fail to understand what the story is all about.

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