Should Huck be on the Shelf?

by , 1998

Aristotle was once asked what he thought friendship was. His response was, "One soul inhabiting two bodies." This was the kind of relationship that Huckleberry Finn and Jim shared in Mark Twain's epic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This novel is a tool that Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemmons, was using to impress the great benefits of friendship upon society. However, others feel that Clemmons was using this book for another motive, to promote racism and ever since The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1885, there have been people trying to ban it from public bookshelves and trying to remove it from required reading lists, alleging that it promoted racism. This was not Mark Twain's motive; rather, he was trying to show how the prejudices that society places upon people could be overcome by friendship.

Mark Twain's novel has caused much controversy from the beginning. In 1885, the year the book was published, the Concord, Massachusetts Public Library banned the book and described it as "trash and suitable only for the slums" (Haight 1). Other than saying that the book was trash, the library did not express any reason for the book's banning, but it can be assumed that the reason was racism. The complaints did not end there: in New York City, seventy-two years later, Twain's publication found itself "dropped from a list of approved books for senior and junior high schools, partly because of objection to frequent use of the term 'nigger' and famed character 'Nigger Jim,'" (2). The statement from New York showed from where the popular misconception of Twain's intent comes; the usage of the word, "nigger." Although the word was used 213 times throughout Huck and Jim's adventure, it was not used in a derogatory way, but merely was part of a Southerner's everyday vocabulary during the nineteenth century of which Twain was trying to paint a picture (Phan 1). Despite Twain's theme on the power of friendship to overcome one of mankind's most terrible flaws, the American Library Association found The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be the sixth most frequently challenged book of 1997 (ALA 4). That is an extremely high ranking when you consider the number of books that are in out nation. While the allegations of racism are true, Mark Twain was using his novel to show how friendship was strong enough to overcome prejudices, not to promote racism.

One of the beliefs that Samuel Langhorne Clemmons was trying to promote was the strength of friendship and its ability to overcome any obstacle, even prejudices placed upon people by society. Huck and Jim's friendship was formed while they were travelling down the Mississippi River together. Why? Because they had something in common: they were both running away. Huck was running from his alcoholic father, and Jim was running from slavery hoping to see his family again someday. Both of the characters had several opportunities to desert one another; in fact, Huck could have gotten a large reward for turning Jim in. Neither betrayed the other because their friendship was more important. They both expressed their feelings for one another in the novel. Jim reveals his fondness for Huck one night while they were on the raft. "Jim won't ever forgit you, Huck, you's de bes' fren' Jim's ever had; en you's de only fren' ole Jim's got now . . . Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de only white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to ole Jim" (Twain 85). Jim was accurate in his saying that Huck was his best friend, Huck had helped him escape from a life of slavery. Huckleberry also felt a deep bond towards Jim. Society had taught Huck that blacks were not human, but Huck had realized that Jim was human. "I knowed he [Jim] was white inside" (262). In Huck's mind, Jim was human and blacks were not; this brought Huck to the conclusion that Jim must be white inside. If it were not for the friendship that Huck and Jim shared, Huckleberry probably would have never seen Jim as an equal. Huck and Jim showed that friendship is so powerful that it can overcome any obstacle, even prejudices created by society - this was the message that Mark Twain was promoting, and certainly cannot be counted as offensive to anyone.

The classic tale of Huck and Jim's travels down the Mississippi River dealt with many complex issues, but the most important of these is friendship. This is what Mark Twain was promoting, not racism. Friendship does not need to be banned from our society; neither does The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Works Cited

American Library Association. "Challenged and Banned Books."

Haight, Anne Lyon & B., Chandler. "'Tom Sawyer' and 'Huckleberry Finn.'"

Phan, Giang & Nguyen, Diep. "Pro Huck Finn."

Twain, Mark. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."