What are some good quotes about Mark Twain being not racist but to the extent that when he uses the word “nigger” like its nothing and the fact that he talks about their lives meaning nothing?
9 Answers | Add Yours
I agree with the consensus that Twain was not intentionally using the word in a racist context. As others have mentioned, during the time the novel was written and during Twain's life, it was a commonly accepted pejorative -- and in the case of many people, simply a descriptive term with no hidden meaning. Just like other racial epithets, it has been weeded out of polite conversation, but that does not mean we should censor it from its historical context. A recent edition of the book removed the word entirely, replacing it with "slave." In my opinion, that is far more racist in its context, since it takes the descriptive word (from the original negro, or "black" in Spanish) and replaces it with a term that is both contextually and intimately insulting, as well as demeaning. Remember that at the time, slavery had been abolished; although the book is set during slavery, historical context and the meaning of the word still matter.
I assume from your question you are looking for arguments that suggest Twain's use of the word "nigger" is not racist. Well, the biggest thing you need to remember I think is that Twain, although he is the author of this story, is not the speaker. He has created a persona, Huck Finn, who tells us the story. As a result, Twain has created a boy that is a product of his time and culture, which makes him authentic and believable. This is incredibly important when we think about the voice of the speaker. Any white individual in Huck's position would grow up using the word "nigger," and Huck is no exception. That does not mean Twain is racist, however.
One of the earliest indications in the novel that Twain is satirizing racism and satirizing people who use the word "nigger" as a term of abuse involves the following comments by Huck's drunken, abusive, good-for-nothing father, called "Pap":
"And to see the cool way of that nigger—why, he wouldn't a give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way. I says to the people, why ain't this nigger put up at auction and sold?—that's what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why, they said he couldn't be sold till he'd been in the State six months, and he hadn't been there that long yet. There, now—that's a specimen. They call that a govment that can't sell a free nigger till he's been in the State six months. Here's a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet's got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take a hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger, and—"
Pap is speaking here, initially, of an educated black professor for whom Pap feels contempt. Clearly Pap's contemtuous attitudes are rooted in a sense of his own inferiority -- a sense of inferiority he would never admit. His hatred of black people is a way of over-compensating for his own failures in life. His sense of racial superiority is rooted in a sense of personal inferiority. He must find a whole class of people whom he can denigrate to make himself feel better about himself. Twain's presentation of Pap is just one of the many ways in this book that he makes it clear that he feels contempt for Pap's attitudes. Huck later finds, in Jim, a much better "father figure" than his own father.
Language is not a static commodity - it changes and evolves over time, with the result that words come in and out of use or acquire different meanings. I'm old enough to remember when being "gay" meant that one was carefree and happy. The meaning of that word, as with "nigger," has changed; one word is used with its new meaning in contemporary speech, the other word has largely been dropped.
I would pay attention to the explanatory in the beginning. Twain takes great care to explain why he has people talking as they do. Basically, he is saying that he is writing the way people talk, and not editing. There is an excellent note about it here. http://www.enotes.com/adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/twain
Here is the explanatory:
IN THIS BOOK a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding. THE AUTHOR.
I have to support the use of Twain's terminology. Another passage where he uses the word, rather nonchalantly, appears in chapter 15:
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way.
As mentioned in the previous posts, the word was simply a part of the culture. It did not hold the connotations it does today.
Twain is writing in the vernacular, and that word was very much a part of late nineteenth century speech. He's a quotable person, and at risk of taking some of his sayings out of context, it's not hard to find him saying some pretty enlightened things about race for a nineteenth-century white man. Example:
I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can't be any worse.
There are many other similar statements. Ultimately, though, there's not much point in trying to figure out if Twain was a racist by modern standards. You can only judge him against his contemporaries.
Mark Twain used the term "nigger" because it was part of the accepted vocabulary of the day. It's important to read the text of the story and appreciate the culture in which it was written. He wrote the story in the 1880's, recounting his youth back in the 1840's.
I don't remember Twain saying anything about the lives of African Americans meaning nothing. He does have some characters, like Pap does in Chapter 6, really run down African Americans and imply that they are worthless, but it is not really Twain's opinion, I don't think.
As for the other, all you have to do is look at any place where the word "nigger" is used and you can see that he is just throwing it around. For example, from Chapter 2,
Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire...
We’ve answered 319,647 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question