The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huckleberry Finn and Jim, on their raft, from the 1884 edition, that copied from English Wikipedia.  Source: Project Gutenberg
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huckleberry Finn and Jim, on their raft, from the 1884 edition, that copied from English Wikipedia. Source: Project Gutenberg
I moderate the queue for the Scientists on the Spot and Dr. Alan Goodman was asked a really good question about Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. It's getting a lot of great feedback, so I thought I would move the thread over here where other folks can chime in on the discussion.

Here was the original question:

A high school student in Minnesota recently raised concerns about reading Huck Finn as part of required curriculum for their English class. Their concern is Twain's use of racially charged language. What are your thoughts on educational standards that involve "classic" works, literary-historic-artistic value to culture that include language and sometime arguments and ideas that can be experienced as bigotry by today's students?

Dr. Goodman's reply:

Although I do not teach fiction and literature, I actually have the same sorts of concerns with historical sources and even science books and articles. For example, students in my class frequently critically read scientific and popular writings from the 19th and early parts of the 20th century that are virulently racist. While such writing can cause pain, I think in the end the worse problem is to ignore the past. There are many valuable lessons.

I have a couple of thoughts about how to present “racist” literature. It is important to put the work in its historical context and in the case of fiction, to provide a sense of what the author’s intentions and motivations may have been. I think it is also critical to understand what was acceptable and common in the past. Finally, these are the ideas and worldviews that shaped our society. Such racist language – and the thoughts behind the language – are still around today. Reading Huck Finn could lead to a valuable class discussion about how the forms of acceptable language have changed compared to the underlying idea about race and racism.

What do you think?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think that reading about Finn is a good way to engage students in a racial issues around the united states. There many ways to talk about this issue in school and to bring up the fact that, it has happend thousands of years ago. and is still going on inn today.

posted on Sun, 05/06/2007 - 8:07pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think it should still be part of their reading assignment.You don't have to agree with it. It is good to be open minded about things. If you expose your child to everything it allows them to make choices.This reading is part of history. Both of my children are going to be in the up coming play Huck Finn. They also both attend a `Catholic school. There are many books and stories that have racial slurrrsinthem. They are part of our history and we just can"t ignore that it happened.

posted on Sun, 05/06/2007 - 8:08pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

We have read The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn in our english class too and had this disscussion about this issue. I am not African American but how this book sterotype the black people back in the days by using the "N" word or "Negro" was racist towards other African American students making them feel umcomfortable. But this book is a classic book and so why do people not want to read this book just because of the diction that the author portrays to show or bring out each character should have the right to put it into his words. you can't really blame the author because he did write it back in the days when there was still slavery so it's not like he was racist and wrote it to offend people so i guess that was how everybody was back in the slavery period. I think this is a great book and everyone should read it despite the dictions because this book ir storyline goes past sterotypical or racial issues you know it's more about friendship and campanionship between two different race and learning that even if they are different colors they still go through the same stuggles and can still achieve or help each other go through the stuggles despite the differences. In other words we all have stuggles or simalarities even if we are black, white, hispanic, or asian etc.. If we all come together and help eachother then we can live in a peaceful world where race doesn't matter because it's all about the inside that counts.

posted on Sun, 05/06/2007 - 8:11pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Do others view lyrics in todays popular music, with it's racial tone, in the same spectrum as the language as "Huck Finn"?

posted on Tue, 05/22/2007 - 2:35pm
Poet's picture
Poet says:

We learn from our mistakes and what we do right, we learn from our history. If the likely information gathered from that statement is not enough, then perhaps we are doomed and I will be screeching to mars.

Note to readers in the future: Screeching in the 21st century, screeching was often referred to as an action taken by people transporting themselves in a wheeled vehicle in a fast manner. For example, when a car would have moved from what was considered a stationary position (not moving on the Earth, only with) with a high velocity (speed), it would make a high pitched sound, known as a screech.

That note should make my optimism apparent.

Back in those days, a lot of races (general colors of people) and sub races (general origin of people) had nick names. Irishmen were called Mic's or Mac's and from what I understand, had a higher probability of death than slaves in those times. I'm Irish, and Mic or Mac is just fine by my standards. No matter the harsh connotations with the referring words (mac or mic), it provides encouragement to some level. The next part of me is Native American. So my heritage, family lines, and chance of positive wealth had a much lower rate of continuation (positive) than what I believe would be most if not any other race in America during its earlier stages, is this something to be upset about? Or something to give encouragement each time I hear something negative to turn it around and make it positive.

I hope that generally expresses my opinion without blemishes.

posted on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 9:37pm
best's picture
best says:

Good opinion

posted on Sun, 07/01/2007 - 9:36am
tonnyTER's picture
tonnyTER says:

As a Palestinian, you may not at first "get" all of the jokes with which Twain's books are filled. But if you study Twain for two or three years, you'll know more about America and Americans than most people who were born and lived their lives in this country. Tell your friends: Read Mark Twain and get wise to America.

posted on Mon, 06/01/2009 - 2:29am

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