Twain a Racist?This question was originally posed in the Q&A forum.  I thought it would be appropriate here.Is Mark Twain considered racist or is he just a reflection of his time? If the...

Twain a Racist?

This question was originally posed in the Q&A forum.  I thought it would be appropriate here.

Is Mark Twain considered racist or is he just a reflection of his time? If the "N" word were removed, would the novel still be impactful?  

 

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I agree with other editors - it is vitally important to look beyond the use of the somewhat deflamatory word "n*****" and look at the wider message that Twain seems to be trying to establish - this is a message that highlights the injustices inherent in slavery through the eyes of a white boy whose journey with Jim down the river forces him to look upon the institutions of his society with new eyes. If we choose not to teach this novel we are truly robbing them of a fascinating experience of encouraging them to look upon their life and times with new eyes too.

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

In my opinion, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an American masterpiece. Mark Twain had an uncanny insight as well as the clarity of a microscope while sailing on the unchartered territory of his American experience. He was able to create characters who reflected the intimate microcosims of the America he was witness to. Using satire to enhance the subject matter, it allowed the reader to question his or her own values. Was it Twain's point of view, society's point of view, or a combination of the two????  Whether or not the satire was understood by the reader was up to the reader. Moreover, the recent bandwagon effect that 'political correctness' has had on several academic disiplines in The United States cannot help but remind us of what Twain must have faced.  Whether it is in American History or American Literature, those who wish to 'revise' the social attitudes as reflected in Twain's novels or the historical realities of this nation because the content is 'difficult and morally wrong'  pose a serious threat to who we are as a people.  Let's face it, as a nation we must recognize The United States is not without sin, however to pick and choose U.S. history as to 'not offend' is the most offensive act  U.S.history can commit upon its people.

slchanmo1885's profile pic

slchanmo1885 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I think too often this book is banned for the use of the "n" word because it is viewed as offensive in today's society. If we look at the time period in which Huck Finn is set, and even the time period during which Twain was writing, it is a word that did not have the same connotations as it does today. Instead I think we have to look at the message that the book conveys, and that is an anti-slavery message. Mark Twain was most definitely not a racist, and in fact was a vocal advocate for the abolitionist movement.

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

When Clemens was about 9 there was an impromptu slave auction held just in front of his house in Hannibal. A slave family was being broken up at the spur of the moment and the mother was crying and wailing with incredible grief. Clemens would later write that it shook him that as he was a boy watching this it did not bother him a great deal, except for the noise. As he was writing this novel, he had to shift back into that ugly mode of thought for the times he wrote about Tom Sawyer in the closing chapters. This is a clear demonstration of how Clemens was no racist, but a skilled writer who could place himself in any mindset and demonstrate its rationalizations perfectly.

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Twain was a journalist, so he was accustomed to writing what people said and how they said it. It would have been impossible for him to write a story set in the antebellum South without using the language he chose to use. The story would have no credibility because it would have been unrealistic. You cannot put standard English into the mouth of an uneducated person (although we English teachers think that's what we do every day).

Huckleberry Finn is a masterpiece because it is a "slice of life." We have actually traveled down the Mississippi when we've finished reading.

mrerick's profile pic

mrerick | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I answered this question in the Q&A, but it's an interesting one to me so I wanted to expand on it here as well.  I don't believe we can call Twain a racist.  The language he uses is definitely a reflection of his time period.  The "n" word was common language.  More importantly, I think we have to consider how Twain portrays the characters in the novel.  Jim is the most admirable character in the novel, even more-so than Huck Finn himself.  If Twain were truly a racist, that would not have been the case.  

I think you've hit the exact reason why Twain isn't racist - Jim is a pure and honorable character.  He really doesn't display a poor quality throughout the novel.  He shows genuine concern for the well-being of his family members as well as Huck and Tom, he puts his trust and faith in a couple of white kids who do some pretty crazy things before freeing him, and he potentially sacrifices his own freedom to save Tom.  If Twain was racist, I don't believe Jim would have been written with that many positive qualities.

cmcqueeney's profile pic

cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

I answered this question in the Q&A, but it's an interesting one to me so I wanted to expand on it here as well.  I don't believe we can call Twain a racist.  The language he uses is definitely a reflection of his time period.  The "n" word was common language.  More importantly, I think we have to consider how Twain portrays the characters in the novel.  Jim is the most admirable character in the novel, even more-so than Huck Finn himself.  If Twain were truly a racist, that would not have been the case.  

landonkerric's profile pic

landonkerric | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Chapter Eight Jim says...

"But I noticed dey wuz a "N" trader roun' de place considable, lately, en I begin to git oneasy."

With Jim saying this shows that it was indeed the language of the time. 

The other posters are right also.  Jim is a pure and honorable character, if Twain was racist, then this would not have been the case.

Also Twain's other works don't show any signs of him being racist.

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