The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, is probably one of the greatest works of American literature ever written. Ernest Hemingway even said in his book The Green Hills of Africa, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn" (Zwick). However, since Twain published Huck Finn 112 years ago, it has been the subject of much criticism, mostly all unfair.
The Concord, Ma, banned the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Public Library immediately after its publication in 1885. They said the book was "rough, course, and inelegant...The whole book suited more to the slums than to intelligent respectable people" (as quoted in Clemens 285). Since the original banning of Huck Finn, it has been challenged and banned many times all over the country.
Much question has been brought against Huck Finn as to its appropriateness for the reading public, and some of it rightfully so. Huck is not as strong in his morals as our parents and educators would probably like him to be. He is involved in several acts of theft. For example, shortly after the beginning of his journey along the river, he would go ashore and he "lifted a chicken that warn't roosting comfortable..." (Clemens 56). Huck smokes and cuts school. (Clemens 9 and 18) He engages in lying, when he impersonates a girl to visit St. Petersburg and when he tells the bounty hunters that Jim is white and implies that he has smallpox (Clemens 51 and 75). He lies many other times throughout the novel; Huck is a bad example to children who may read this book. Huck's plan to escape from Pap's cabin in the woods, which involves smearing pig's blood all over the cabin and making it seem like a murder had occurred, is an easy scheme for any smart youth to scare his parents with (Clemens 31). In October of 1997, a ninth grader in Hollister, California "borrowed" money from his parents and used it to fly to Hawaii. His mother believed that the boy got the idea from his hero, Tom Sawyer (Zwick). Critics claim that the book is full of ideas that cause impressionable children to do things like that (Ockerbloom). Opponents still have more negative arguments about the content of the book. Leslie Fielder, a literary scholar, believes that Huck and Jim engage in some type of homosexual relationship on the raft (Fielder as quoted in Clemens 416). The fact that Huck and Jim seldom wore any clothes on the raft only further substantiates this idea. Additionally, Twain intended Huck Finn to be a humorous novel. However, most of the humor, especially towards the end of the book in the Wilks brothers con, is in poor taste and "inelegant" Boston Transcript. Twain's poking fun at the Hare-lip, and the "long legged under taker" episode were not looked favorably upon at time of publication, but are not as much criticized now (Clemens 139 and 144). Today, the main objection to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the fact that the book contains the word "nigger" more than two hundred times throughout the novel.
As recently as last February, the Pennsylvania branch of the NAACP led a charge against Huck Finn to have it removed from required and optional school reading lists. But, when considering the issues involved, one must keep in mind that this book was written in a different time from that which we live in today. There was no such thing as politically correct. The word "nigger" was a word used commonly and unabashedly back then. So, how can we hold a book written over a hundred years ago to the literary standards of today?
Huck Finn is not a racist book, in spite of Huck's initial racist standpoint. Through the course of the novel, Huck gains increasingly more respect for Jim, but still shows some racist attitudes occasionally. After the disagreement with Jim over the biblical story of "ole' King Sollermum", Huck remarks that "you can't learn a nigger to argue," thus implying Jim's stupidity (Clemens 65 and 66). Throughout the book, Huck plays tricks on Jim, which are also meant to make Jim feel stupid. Towards the beginning of the book, shortly after we are first introduced