A post by our fantastic new curatorial assistant, Mallory Howard.
In honor of banned book week, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Mark Twain’s infamously banned novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the late 1800’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was originally banned because Huck Finn was a “bad boy” who had no morals and bad manners. Mothers certainly didn’t want this example to be set for their children and therefore did not allow the book to be read. It also came under fire for its language, but not the language that we find offensive today. In Concord, MA part of the reason it was banned was because Huck said, “sweat” instead of “perspire.” In more recent years Huck Finn has been banned due to its use of the “n-word,” which shows up consistently throughout the novel. This coarse language is deemed by some to be extremely offensive and results in some schools refusing to teach it or carry it in their libraries. Those who defend the novel argue that too often the language is taken out of context and should not be viewed with 21st century eyes, doing so can indeed cause conflict. However, when studied from a 19th century context, the book coincides exactly with how most people spoke, felt, and thought.
Another criticism of the novel, which has helped in the argument of the books banishment, is the portrayal of Jim, the African-American slave who travels with Huck down the great Mississippi river. Some are upset that Twain depicted Jim as an “unintelligent, jolly, black man,” who seems unable to accomplish much of anything. This is a common misconception people have about the character of Jim. In chapter nine of the book, Jim and Huck encounter a sunken boat with a dead body inside. When Jim takes a closer look he realizes it is Huck’s abusive, alcoholic father, Pap Finn. Pap is the reason Huck is determined to run away in the first place and Jim quickly realizes if he relays this information to him, he is a goner. He needs Huck as protection, to shield him from the possibility of being hunted down and dragged back to slavery. Jim is concerned with self preservation and proves to be quite intelligent in making sure that he is successful is attaining his goal to leave the South and the enslavement that goes with it.
Craig Hotchkiss, the Program Manager for the Mark Twain House & Museum states that by banning books like Huck Finn, “We are diminishing the power that literature is supposed to have. Great literature it supposed to be disturbing and uncomfortable.” We at the Mark Twain House are dedicated to educating others about the importance of reading books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Despite our best efforts to correctly teach the book and broaden the understanding of the novel and its important messages, it is still banned in schools and libraries across the United States. No restraints should be placed upon books, for they represent the freedom of speech and expression that we have fought so hard for and continue to fight for. Protest the injustice of book banning by exercising your freedom to read what you want to! I encourage all of you to pick up Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or any other banned book, and read it!
- Mallory Howard