February 22, 2010

Scholar:  Huck and Twain were racist

Commercialism sold Huck Finn character down the river, Twain scholar says

The retired chairman of UCLA's English Department has a collection of tchotchkes, gadgets and artwork that show how the 1884 classic has been romanticized by fans, the public and even the author.

By Bob Pool
A close reading of the book shows that the supposedly warm relationship between Huck and Jim has been manipulated over the last century, he said.

"Jim was an encumbrance for Huck. There's been a great deal of romanticizing about the bond that the two of them form on the voyage down the river. But Huck never realizes slavery is wrong."

Was Huckleberry Finn a racist?

"Yes," Wortham said. And so was Mark Twain.

Twain used the "N-word" 206 times, according to Wortham. "Each time that word is used is calculated" by Twain for its shock value for an audience that at the time was unaccustomed to literature written in the vernacular, he said.
Comment:  Actually, it doesn't take that close of a reading. I read Huck Finn in high school. Twenty years later, I remembered it well enough to successfully argue it's racist.

The use of the n-word is just the tip of the iceberg. The best arguments for Huck Finn's being racist are Jim's ignorance and superstitiousness. Being unschooled isn't the same as being dumb, but Jim is as foolish as a child. And Jim's over-the-top Negro dialect. He talks like every minstrel clown in history, not a real person.

By the way, rafting downriver to the South, where slavery is more pervasive, is a pretty damn stupid mistake. For Jim the character and for Twain the writer. I wonder why Twain wrote it that way, and why critics haven't pounced on this blatant mistake. What next...a Jew fleeing Nazis who hides in Auschwitz?

For more on the subject, see Is Huck Finn Racist? and Mark Twain, Indian Hater.

Below:  Childlike blacks and savage Indians were Twain's youthful view of minorities.

"Help me, massa! I sho nuff is so ignorant I can't speak no good!"


Anonymous said...

Yes, Mark Twain was probably a racist, but where is the social examination of the time period to go along with that statement. It was the late 1800s and practically everyone was a racist. Indian territory existed at this point, soon to be stolen away from Indian peoples -- yet again. My point is, if someone in the past twenty years has written or portrayed this type of racism, slam them. But get off Twain's back! He's a product of his era, who in the end had something scathing to say about everyone.

Rob said...

The social examination of the time period is in the links I provided. Read 'em and weep.