Happy Banned Books Week to y’all!
I was originally going to talk about Clockwork Orange today, but for reasons I will save for a future entry, it wasn’t the easiest thing to read.
So I grabbed Huckleberry Finn, since I was one of the only Americans to not at least pretend to read this book at some point.
I think this was probably my favorite book to read so far from the Top Ten. This book was listed by the following authors:
Lee K. Abbott
Madison Smart Bell
Bobbie Ann Mason
Joyce Carol Oates
Robert B Parker
Louis D. Rubin Jr
I listed them this way, to highlight how _many_ of the authors picked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Obviously, I am in good company with loving this book.
Huck Finn has been banned countless times due to the use of the word “nigger”. They (the ignoramuses who ban it) obviously are unable to critically read a book and to see past the usage of the word “nigger”. They say it’s racist. However, anyone who has read Huck Finn with half a brain can see it’s actually the opposite of racist, and is actually a criticism of slavery.
It reminds me of a time in college (a conservative school) where the literary magazine published a poem about and against suicide that had the word fuck at the end. They banned the literary magazine as “offensive”. It was a case where the poet had used the curse word to underscore his point as to why someone shouldn’t commit suicide, and the poem was about God’s love for us as creatures etc.
Much like that, Huck Finn is the story of a “pre-teen” boy who runs off to get away from his drunkard dad who is attempting to get 6000.00 that Huck Finn received as a result of the happenings in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He runs across his benefactress’s slave Jim in the process, who has run away as he overheard talk that he was to be sold “down river”. Jim and Huck Finn go on the run together, rafting down the Mississipi. They have a variety of adventures and throughout the book, Huck has attacks on his conscience about aiding and abetting a runaway slave, but then he remembers how Jim helped him, how Jim would take his watch at night and let Huck sleep, how he tells Huck that he’s his only friend. So he keeps deciding to not turn in his friend, that maybe Jim is more man than slave (Huck doesn’t actually say this, this is my own analysis). Twain spends time fleshing Jim out into a full character, instead of a caricature. The following is just one example of how Twain does that. Jim is telling Huck about an experience with his little girl who had just recovered from scarlet fever and was 4 years old. Jim told her to close the door and she just stood staring at him and smiling at him. He tells her again. And she still just stands there.
“En wid dat I fetch’ her a slap side de head dat sont her a-sprawlin’. Den I went into de yuther room, en uz gone ’bout ten minutes; en when I come back dah was dat do’ a-stannin’ open yit, en dat chile stannin’ mos’ right in it, a-lookin’ down and mournin’, en de tears runnin’ down. My, but I wuz mad! I was a-gwyne for de chile, but jis’ den-it was a do’ dat open innerds-jis’ den, ‘long come de wind en slam it to, behine de chile, ker-blam! en my lan’, de chile never move! My breff mos’ hop outer me; en I feel so-so- I doan’ know how I feel. I crope out, all a-tremblin, en crope aroun en open de do’ easy en slow, en poke my head in behine de chile, sof’en still, en all uv a sudden I says pow! jis as loud as I could yell. She never budge! Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en says ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fo’give po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fo’give hisseff as long’s he live!’ Oh she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plum deef en dumb-en I’d ben a-treat’n’ her so!”.
Admittedly, much like Gone with the Wind, there are characterizations of Jim as being a good “nigger” and how slaves liked their masters and were a little simple-minded. However, Twain does show that Jim has brains, even if he’s not book smart or even smart in the way Huckleberry is. The thing to remember when you run across things like this is when the book was written. Even if someone was against slavery, certain ideas prevailed about how a black person would act or behave, just as it does today about different ethnic groups. How many times has someone cracked a joke around you about “Mexicans all living in a one bedroom, ten of them”? I’ve heard it at least a dozen times in the last decade. Twain does a great job in my opinion of making Jim into a character to love and a character to respect. His comments by other characters in regards to the general temperament of Jim shows the attitude of the day, not a purposeful attempt to be racist. If the same book was written today, yes, the author would be going for the shock value of racism. However, Twain’s era meant that he actually wrote quite an enlightened book for the time.
Another thing I loved about this book is that I spent most of a chapter giggling and laughing outright. Tom Sawyer and Huck are going to rescue Jim from captivity (he was recaptured). Tom has all kinds of grandiose ideas about how to rescue Jim. The following exchange happens during this chapter:
Tom is asking Jim to allow some rattlesnakes to stay in there with him while he and Huck are digging the hole to get Jim out. Jim has an obvious issue with this.
Tom: “Blame it, can’t you try? I only want you to try-you needn’t keep it up if it don’t work.”
Jim: “But de trouble all done ef de snake bite me while I’s a-tryin’ him. Mars Tom, I’s willin’ to tackle mos’ anything’at ain’t onreasonable, but ef you en Huck fetches a rattlesnake in heah for me to tame, I’s gwyne to leave, dat’s shore”
Tom: “Well then, let it go, let it go, if you’re so bullheaded about it. We can get you some garter-snakes, and you can tie some buttons on their tails and let on they’re rattle snakes and I’ll reckon that will have to do”.
JIm: “I k’n stan’ dem, Mars Tom, but blame’ ‘f I couldn’ git along widout um, I tell you dat. I never knowed b’fo’ twas so much bother and trouble to be a prisoner”
Tom: Well, it always is when it’s done right. You got any rats around here?”
Jim: “No, sah, I hain’t seed none.”
Tom: “Wll, we’ll get you some rats.”
Jim: “Why, Mars Tom, I doan’ want no rats. Dey’s de dad-blamedest creatures to ‘sturb a body, en rustle roun’ over ‘im, en bite his feet, when he’s trying to sleep, I ever see. No, sah, gimme g’yarter snakes, ‘if I’s got to have ‘m, but doan’ gimme no rats; I hain’ got no use f’r um”.
Tom: “But Jim, you got to have them-they all do. So don’t make no more fuss about it. Prisoners ain’t ever without rats. There ain’t no instance of it. And they train them, and pet them and learn them tricks and they get to be sociable as flies. But you got to play music to them. You got anything to play music on?”.
And Jim is good tempered and allows Tom to try out all his ideal prison escape ideas on him.
Another thing I loved about Huck Finn is I felt Mark Twain was giving us a glimpse into the actual society during this time. The characters that Huck and Jim run into all seem to come from types of people that were really around at that time. Not Twain thinly fictionalizing people he knew, but more instances, tales and people he met around over the years. I felt like that was another theme of the book actually.
Really, people that want to ban this book should listen to what the author himself has to say as the very first part of the edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn says;
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. By ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance”
That more than anything suggests to me that Twain might have been just mainly telling a story in his head and not trying to write an allegorical tale about the evils of society at his time.