Racism in Huckleberry Finn Essay


Huckleberry Finn may be regarded as the most praised single work of American literature. Praised by outstanding critics and novelists, the novel is kept at the stem of the American literature curriculum. In accordance with Arthur Applebee, the work is second only to Shakespeare in the incidence it appears in the classroom and is involved in 70% of public high schools.

It is written in a now-forgotten dialect, told from the viewpoint of an escapee fourteen-year-old, the novel joins melodramatic boyhood escapade, farcical low humor, and pointed societal spoof. Yet at its center are relations between a white boy and a runaway slave, a friendship engrafted with the disaster and the probability of American history. Despite a social order stated against interracial statement and admiration, Huck expands a comradeship with Jim for which he is wishing against all he has been trained to risk his essence. (Mensh, 2000)

In spite of the novel’s consecrated place and openly anti-racist message, since school integration in the 1950s, black Americans have hoisted objections to Huckleberry Finn and its impact on their children. Joining their grievances with the attempts of other groups to impact the curriculum, English teachers have seen the matter as one of restriction, protecting the novel and the right to keep it in the curriculum. In so doing, teachers have been correctly concerned: the freedom of English teachers to create and execute curriculum must be defended as restriction undermines the formation of an informed electorate able to make dangerous judgments between opposing suggestions.

Yet, regarding the doubts to Huckleberry Finn only in terms of free will and censorship does not determine potentially disruptive situations that can arise in either high school or college surroundings. For this teachers are obliged to listen to oppositions raised to the novel and review the procedure of teaching it. Entering into a conversation with those that have protested to Huckleberry Finn can assist think over the dynamics of race in literature lessons and about the way literature portrays and asserts national culture and history. (Scott, 2005)

Huckleberry Finn Summary

“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is generally regarded as one of the first essential American novels written using Local Color Regionalism, or vernacular, narrated by the eponymous Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, best friend of Tom Sawyer (hero of three other novels by Mark Twain).

The book is regarded for its bright description of people and locations along the Mississippi River. By deriding Southern society (before the Civil War) that was a quarter-century in the past by the time of issuing, the book is a frequently scathing look at established approaches, mainly racism. The wandering journey of Huck and his pal Jim, an escaped slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most lasting descriptions of run away and liberty in all of American literature.

Lots of succeeding critics have denounced the final episodes, asserting the book “devolves into little more than minstrel-show satire and broad comedy” at the tip Jim is pilfered from the boys by the slave-chaser. Hemingway stated, “All modern American literature comes from” Huck Finn, and summoned it as “the best book we’ve had.” He concerned, nevertheless, “If you must read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end.” (Chadwick-Joshua, 1998)

Much contemporary scholarship of Huckleberry Finn has concentrated on its conduct of the race. Many Twain researchers have stated that the book, by civilizing Jim and depicting the myths of the racist suppositions of slavery, is an assault on racism. Others have stated that the book founders on this matter, particularly in its representation of Jim. Twain was not capable to fully go up above the labels of black people that white readers of his time anticipated and liked. Twain consequently routed to minstrel show-style comedy to offer humor at Jim’s expense and terminating verifying rather than opposing late-19th century racialist typecasts. (Arac, 1996)

Theme of Racism in Huckleberry Finn

Although Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn twenty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, America ‑ and particularly the South ‑ were still resisting racism and the consequences of slavery. By the early 1880s, Reconstruction, the plan to set the United States back together after the war and incorporate liberated slaves into the community, had hit the unstable ground, nevertheless, it had yet not passed absolutely. As Mark Twain worked on his novel, race relations, which appeared to be on an optimistic path in the years following the Civil War, once again turned to be injured.

The burden of Jim Crow regulations, created to restrict the authority of blacks in the South in a diversity of roundabout techniques, brought the beginning of a new, sinister attempt to coerce. The new discrimination of the South, less structured and monumental, was also more complex to struggle with. Slavery could be prohibited, but when white Southerners ratified racist regulations or rules under an apparent reason of self-protection against newly liberated slaves, far fewer people, Northern or Southern, watched the act as depraved and hurried to struggle it. Although Mark Twain wrote the narrative after slavery was eliminated, he set it a few decades previous, when slavery still existed.

But even by Twain’s time, things had not unavoidably gotten much better for black slaves in the South. In this regard, it is necessary to read Twain’s representation of slavery as figurative imaging of the condition of blacks in the USA even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery locates the decent and ethically good Jim under the control of the white community, no matter how dishonored that white community may be, so too did the sinister racism that appeared near the end of Reconstruction coerce black men for irrational and insincere motives. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, by picturing the hypocrisy of slavery, reveals how racism deforms the tormenters as much as it does those who are coerced.

The consequence is a world of ethical perplexity, in which apparently “good” white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps reveal no anxiety on the matters of the unfairness of slavery or the unkindness of separating Jim from his family.

Despite the few incidences in which Jim’s description might be misconstrued as racist, there are many points in the novel where Twain through Huck, voices his extreme opposition to the slave trade and racism. In chapter six, Huck’s father fervently objects to the government granting suffrage to an educated black professor. Twain wants the reader to see the absurdity in this statement. Huck’s father believes that he is superior to this black professor simply because of the color of his skin.

In Chapter 15 the reader is told of an incident that contradicts the original “childlike” description of Jim. In chapter 15 the reader is presented with a very caring and father-like Jim who becomes very worried when he loses his best friend Huck in a deep fog. Twain is pointing out the connection which has been made between Huck and Jim. A connection that does not exist between a man and his property. When Huck first meets Jim on the Island he makes a monumental decision, not to turn Jim in. He is confronted by two opposing forces, the force of society and the force of friendship. Many times throughout the novel Huck comes very close to rationalizing Jim’s slavery.

However, he is never able to see a reason why this man who has become one of his only friends, should be a slave. Through this internal struggle, Twain expresses his opinions of the absurdity of slavery and the importance of following one’s personal conscience before the laws of society. By the end of the novel, Huck and the reader have come to understand that Jim is not someone’s property and an inferior man, but an equal. (Champion, 1991)

If talking on the matters of racism or segregation, Mark Twain does not only aim to complain about the African American race, but he does the French as well. Huck and Jim are interested in why Frenchmen talk funny. The reader identifies it as their pronunciation, but Twain does this to just put a little taunt in against the French readers. Mark Twain, who is not French, determines that he is not a Frenchman so why not make fun of the manner that they talk. The French people are regarded as a simple aim, as they bring along their French vernacular to the English language. Twain created his novel to depict all of the difficulties that other people have, and not to reveal his own.


As Huck and Jim are discussing the way Frenchmen communicate, Huck states that it is usual and right for cats and cows to communicate in another way from each other. Normal and right can be regarded in lots of different manners. There is no actual natural and right category of person in the actual world. In Mark Twain’s fictional world there is. He is the usual and right individual. He considers that everything he does is the right thing to do. Twain may also suggest that discrimination is the right thing to do as well. Racism was what Mark Twain was raised within and wrote about. (Leonard, 1992)

Later, after arguing about the dissimilarities of cats and cows, Huck gives up. He states, “You can’t learn a nigger to argue”. Rather than arguing with Jim about how cats and cows speak Huck just gives up. Huck understands that Jim considers that English is the only language used in the world. When Jim obtains this new information about another language, he is devastated. Instead of attempting to realize, he just tells Huck that there is no probable way that there can be one more language.

Huck realizes that Jim does not comprehend him, so Huck just gives up. Mark Twain uses this dialogue to show how uneducated Jim is. He depicts to the readers that Jim is so stupid that he does not even know there are other languages in the world. Twain uses Jim for this as he was an escapee. Since the slaves in that time were uneducated, Mark Twain aims to use that against black people later.


Arac, Jonathan. “Putting the River on New Maps: Nation, Race, and Beyond in Reading Huckleberry Finn.” American Literary History 8.1 (1996): 110-129.

Chadwick-Joshua, Jocelyn. The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1998.

Champion, Laurie, ed. The Critical Response to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Leonard, James S., Thomas A. Tenney, and Thadious M. Davis, eds. Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.

Mensh, Harry, and Elaine Mensh. Black, White, and Huckleberry Finn: Re-Imagining the American Dream. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2000.

Scott, Kevin Michael. “”There’s More Honor”: Reinterpreting Tom and the Evasion in Huckleberry Finn.” Studies in the Novel 37.2 (2005): 187.

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