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How does Aunt Sally's reaction to the black man being killed in an explosion on the...

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i2ain | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 18, 2009 at 6:31 AM via web

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How does Aunt Sally's reaction to the black man being killed in an explosion on the steamboat reflect society's attitude towards blacks?

Why do you think Twain had Aunt Sally -- not someone else -- react this way?

Thank you for help in advanced. :]

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:35 PM (Answer #2)

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In Chapter 32 of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", Aunt Sally whose nephew is Tom Sawyer, shows a total disregard for the lives of African Americans. When Huck, pretending to be Tom, tries to explain why he has been delayed, he explains that the steamboat engine was damaged when a cylinder head blew up. He says to Aunt Sally:

“It warn't the grounding—that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head.”

“Good gracious! anybody hurt?” ( Aunt Sally)

“No'm. Killed a nigger.” ( Huck)

“Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt. (Aunt Sally)

Without missing a beat, Aunt Sally goes on to tell a long story about a white man killed in the same way and totally ignores the death of the black man. It seems that Aunt Sally and the society in which she lives do not consider the death of a black man important.

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litelle209 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:35 PM (Answer #3)

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Twain's text can also be read as a social commentary on postbellum America ( after the Civil War). Twain, whom many scholars view influenced directly by African American culture, uses Aunt Sally who represents the American middle class of his time to show how obtuse attitudes were among whites. Sally is not one of the cruel whites who has an overseer whip her slaves into submission, but she still regards black lives as subhuman as her comment shows.

Further, the text was written in the age of Realism. One of the tenets of Realism is that it requires a moral decision (should Huck help Jim and why?). Aunt Sally's comment also serves to hammer that point home through its sarcastic underpinning- African Americans are human, too. Twain chose to use the distant past, antebellum America ( before the Civil War), to discuss the underlying issues of the race struggle in the 1880's. At that time Blacks were still considered inferior in many ways and there was literature that attested to that fact, such as the strange book Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro. If the text is indeed a document of culture it needed to include all voices from the spectrum in order to demystify race. Aunt Sally is simply one of those voices on the spectrum.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:35 PM (Answer #4)

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All of Mark Twain's biographies denote his nature to want to instill a sense of racial equality among citizens. However, he lived through the post-Civil war resentment period where people may not have been able to have slaves, but no law deterred them from treating blacks like inferior folk. Hence, in the story he satirizes a lot of this resentment and shows the rubbish of it all. Aunt Sally's comments are a mirror of the times, and the feeling instilled in the reader gives you a sense of anger which is what he wants to accomplish.

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slchanmo1885 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted April 3, 2009 at 4:18 PM (Answer #5)

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Aunt Sally is an upstanding, church going citizen who is a mother-figure and a sweet, caring lady. To have her react this way illustrates the real hypocrisy of the societal mores of the time. A (white) person is a good person if they go to church, care for their families, and do "good" things for one another, but slaves don't count. The whites of the time do not view black people as people at all. They view them as expendable, property only. And this is also a way for Huck to both test Aunt Sally's views on the humanity of blacks and to solidify his charade as a "good" member of society who adheres to the belief system of the time. 

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted May 24, 2009 at 12:43 AM (Answer #6)

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No doubt Twain's view of "landed people" was not too generous.  Almost all of the towns Huck came upon were either dirty, poor, or the people were considered stupid or backward. Twain's attitude for most of the middle-class people that Huck comes across do not look good at all is probably Twain's view that most of the people were sheep in their ability to think for themselves and following mass thinking can not be more dramatically displayed than the episode with Col. Sherburne in contrasting people to a life-less wave of water. Twain also shows the gullible and uneducated nature of most people.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted June 2, 2009 at 3:07 PM (Answer #7)

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The woman's views that a black man was killed, was normal reaction for a white woman at that time. It was perfectly normal for her to say that and totally within character. It was extremely satirical.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:41 AM (Answer #8)

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Aunt Sally was chosen because she represents the common people's attitudes.  She is also a basically good person.  Yet she is very different from what we would consider a good person today.  Today she would be a bigot and a fool.

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cynrey30 | Student , Grade 11 | eNoter

Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:14 AM (Answer #9)

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shows how racist we are, and also how we are quick to judge when we dont even know that person. many people dont care for others who are not like them

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 8, 2013 at 11:57 PM (Answer #10)

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Sally accepts what people tell her as truth. This apparently includes values. She thinks as she has been taught or told to think. This lack of integrity connects her with many other characters in the novel who fail to penetrate the frauds presented to them. 

Sally is, effectively, a sponge for "received wisdom". 

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