Huckleberry Finn Racist or not?

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 11:12   /   Views: 175
Although the word “nigger” is now considered rude and offensive, it was not so during the time period in which Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck grew up in a slave-holding town in Missouri, so racism was planted in him from a very young age, yet he manages to overcome it throughout the novel. Although many characters in the book are racist and have no respect for blacks, Huck Finn, when taken as a whole, preaches tolerance and shows that slavery is wrong.

Before one can fully understand the novel, one must understand the time period and culture in which it was written. Throughout Huck Finn, African Americans are constantly referred to as “niggers.” Although some characters, such as Huck’s father, are racist and complain how the government must “set stock-still for six whole months before it can take a-hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger and ...,” (p. 36) other, such as Mary Jane, are very attached to blacks. She was crying, “and it was the niggers” (181) that were causing her to cry, because they were being sold and the family was going to be separated. These events show that the word “nigger” was merely part of the vernacular of Southern culture during the 1800's and not strictly a racist term. It further illustrates that Twain recognized the evils of racism, as shown in the drunken, child-beating, illiterate, racist character that is Huck Finn’s father, Pap.

As shown in the aforementioned example, Mary Jane did not view blacks as mere property, but as human beings with feelings. When her “uncles” (the king and the duke) decided to sell her slave family, she and her sisters were crying and hugging the slaves. None of them could believe that the family was going to be split up. Although they all felt that it was wrong, they did not dare do anything to remedy the situation because of the culture in which they were raised. Much later in the book, Jim shows an even more powerful example of black humanity. When he and Tom are on the island with the doctor, Jim gives up his freedom to help the doctor save Tom’s life. Even though Tom had never been kind or fair to Jim, Jim could not stand for a child to be hurt, no matter the personal consequences.

In stark contrast to the humanity which Twain illustrated in slaves, he showed many flaws in the white “society” of his time. The most prevalent and obvious examples are the scenes with the duke and the dauphin. One such scene is “Royal Nonesense,” in which the king and duke put on a “performance” to rob the crowd of its money. Rather than punish the duke and dauphin, the audience decides to tell the rest of the town that it was a good show so that they would all look foolish. The “society” shown in this scene is one of a malicious mob, not the “pious actions” which a white supremacist would display.

Although the people Huck’s party met in towns were not righteous, the duke and dauphin themselves were the worst of all. They pretended to be the brothers of a diseased man so that they could steal the six thousand dollars he left behind in his will, in addition to an even greater sum by liquidating his property. Were it not for Huck and the untimely arrival of the true brothers, they would have robed his remaining relatives - his nieces - of approximately fifteen thousand dollars. (In today’s currency that would be just shy of one million dollars.) When their plan to rob the Wilks family failed, the king and the duke sell Jim for $40 so that they have money to run further scams with. These two characters show the greed and selfishness of Twain’s white “society” in a way which is humiliating to the human race, and not whatsoever in support of white supremacy.

A final example of flawed white society is the feud between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords. At one point in the novel, Huck and Jim are separated, and Huck found himself staying with the Grangerford family. His hosts were in a feud-to-the-death with the neighboring Shepherdson family, but nobody remembered what the feud was about. Just before Huck leaves, there is a major shoot-out and many family members on both sides were killed. This white “society” is nearly anarchy, and demonstrates Twain’s utter lack of faith in the white race.
It is clear that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not racist. The novel shows human qualities in blacks, while simultaneously reveling many shortcomings in whites. Those who would argue otherwise, such as the mother in the film that we watched in class, should be more open-minded. The use of the work “nigger” in Twain’s time did not

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