Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week: Huckleberry Finn

I think Time sums up the banning and history of Huckleberry Finn very well so we'll begin this post with that:

In 1885, the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts banned the year-old book for its "coarse language" — critics deemed Mark Twain's use of common vernacular (slang) as demeaning and damaging. A reviewer dubbed it "the veriest trash ... more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people." Little Women author Louisa May Alcott lashed out publicly at Twain, saying, "If Mr. Clemens [Twain's original name] cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them." (That the word nigger appears more than 200 times throughout the book did not initially cause much controversy.) In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library in New York followed Concord's lead, banishing the book from the building's juvenile section with this explanation: "Huck not only itched but scratched, and that he said sweat when he should have said perspiration." Twain enthusiastically fired back, and once said of his detractors: "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." Luckily for him, the book's fans would eventually outnumber its critics. "It's the best book we've had," Ernest Hemingway proclaimed. "All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." Read more here.
In all actuality, Huckleberry Finn has had numerous reasons for being banned that have changed over the hundred years of it's existence. Just after the book came out there was an outcry of how Huck Finn acted and the blasphemous fact that he had a *gasp* interracial relationship with the runaway slave named Jim. Twains blatant use of slang still upsets people today (although he based it entirely on the slang of that area during that time period) and many still have issues with Twain's animate writing bashing racism and the institution of slavery.

How sad it is, that to this day this book is still challenged and people feel threatened by Mark Twains dislike of racism. Albeit the language is very vulgar in that the characters spit out 'the n word' continuously- to me that was surprising because I've grown up around people who just do not use that word. However, I realize the word was commonly used many years ago and people didn't view it as blasphemous. It's a part of history that's unfortunate but true and Mark Twain is certainly remaining close to life by using those terms.

The idea that the books should be banned due to Huckleberry Finn setting a bad example for children makes me laugh. Other children set a bad example for children. Reading a book about a boy who runs away and rides a raft down the Mississippi is less likely to influence a child then their classmates or the tv shows that are on.

I found the book to be funny at times and nerve-wracking at others. I absolutely adored the relationship Huck had with Jim (and to think some people have a stick up their butt about this book because it's an 'interracial friendship' makes me furious!). Their friendship, to me, is what makes the book.

The slang of the book is hard to get into and for a kid, I think it might be hard for them to understand, but for a teenager or even an adult- you can get it and you can appreciate the story line. For a child, there is nothing better then daydreaming that you're floating down a river, why do we need to abolish every book that gives children that opportunity?

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