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Book Review: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Book Review Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel of the famous novel about Tom Sawyer written by the American writer Mark Twain. The book transfers readers to the antebellum world of Tom Sawyer and his weird adventures. The author first published this novel in 1884 in Canada and the United Kingdom (Adams, Oliver & Twain, 2014). A year later, the book was also published in the United States of America. However, the book was banned as soon as it was published; the reason for the ban was the vulgar character of the book since it depicted Huckleberry scratching himself and low-class criminals. Although such writers as Hemingway and Eliot believed that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was one of the most significant literary works in the USA; the book was later banned for the second time. Such a decision was explained by the fact that Mark Twain used an offensive n-word too many times in his novel. As a result, the book was viewed as a racist one. This issue is rather controversial and is worth paying attention to. The question is whether this book should be perceived as a piece of American history or if the n-word still has a certain power in terms of racism and racial discrimination. Since the book was republished in 2011 in order to replace all the instances of the n-word with the word ‘slave,’ there is one more question that reveals the issue of whether it was actually right to republish the book changing the author’s initial perception.

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Banned books always deserve to be read and paid attention to since the fact that they are banned shows that these books contain some very delicate issues that mean a lot for society. Particularly, the analyzed novel raises such issues as whether it is right and moral to own other people, whether there is any sense to obey laws if they are wrong, and whether individuals are of more importance than the society. The novel suggests that the established moral values of society are actually wrong. Both public and private schools are usually rather stanched to bonding to customary moral values. Indeed, many of the common moral values, such as to be respectful, coming on time, not to cheat, lie or steal, are very reasonable and hard to argue with. However, one can see that schools are a little cautious about providing their students with an opportunity to read books that imply an individual sense of right and wrong as an important guide rather than the laws and rules that everyone follows.

Many critics support the point of view that Mark Twain’s literary work is racist and should not be part of the education process. However, they do not take into account the fact that the American writer never stated that his attitude toward African-American people was racial. Moreover, using the n-word in his book, he did not mean it as well. Perhaps, everything he used this word for was a simple attempt to represent the dialect of the time that he wrote about. Between real people’s language of the time and literary language, Twain chose the first one in order to better and more vividly depict the situation of the past. Imagination is an incredibly great tool for writing books, but in historical context, it is better to provide relevant information and features that are real for the time and events that an author describes.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is Mark Twain’s intellectual property; thus, censoring it via republishing means to alter some features of the author’s book, which is obviously not acceptable. All great books are very deep in their sense and raise issues that are worth being discussed and even argued about. Creating his or her story, any author does not have to meet the expectations of the society because literature is a form of art, and art is a phenomenon that expresses thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions of an individual. It often occurs that society finds its reflection in literary works, but it does not mean that authors must meet some societal rules writing their works. Great writing does not need to censor its style and purpose in order to meet the anticipations or fit the needs of society. The novel by Mark Twain teaches students the universal truth, which was the main aim of the author. The original content and style of the novel provide readers with historical precision and authenticity that were obviously lost because of republishing. Indeed, it is unrealistic and wrong to try altering classic writing and historical events in order to make them fit the demands of the modern society, failing to remove the universal truth and lessons in the story. One should realize that the analyzed novel perfectly depicts its time period with its events, society, and language.

Many critics and even readers claim that Mark Twain used the offensive word too many times in his novel. Indeed, the scandal word was used two hundred sixteen times in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, the author did not have any intention to hurt or offend anyone. Reading the novel carefully, a reader should understand that it reveals such themes as alcohol and drugs, the supernatural, folly and foolishness, youth, family, the natural world and a man, friendship, religion, deceit and lies, order and rules, ethics and morality, and finally, race and racial discrimination. Due to the last theme, the n-word is extremely necessary for the novel because it is one of the most vivid features of the time that Mark Twain described in his book. This word illustrates racism and shows what the situation was like many years ago, but it does not propagate racism. Actually, it showed the reality as it was, what challenges African-American slaves had to face. The author gave readers an opportunity to estimate such a phenomenon as racism to the full extent. Today, many people do not even know how severe and even cruel it was. Therefore, with his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain reveals this issue and shows the cruel world of slavery.

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Consequently, republishing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in order to replace the n-word with the word ‘slave’ is an unnecessary censorship measure utilized to the classic novel since it would leave the book’s readers without learning how extensive racism was at that time period. No matter how many times the n-word is used in the text of the novel, the important point is the purpose of its usage, which is not to promote racism in modern society but to depict the racial pressure that existed at the times. “The word is there for a reason,” says Jeff Nichols, the executive director of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. “The word is terrible, it's hurtful, but it's there for a reason," to convey the language and attitudes of Missouri in the 1840s, in a book written in the 1880s when Jim Crow laws were being passed in the South to deprive blacks of their civil rights”.

Without utilizing the n-word, the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would lose its main purpose and meaning. According to Holz (2008),

Twain wanted readers to struggle with the term to make his point, showing that racial clashes between whites and blacks were so strong throughout the hearts and minds of Missourians, an idea that would be lost if republished. Not only does the frequent use of the n-word give realistic insight to the 1840’s.

Mark Twain also integrates the banned term in order to show the development of Jim; by its means, the author shows how Jim becomes humanized all the way through the book even though racial barriers still exist. Besides showing how white men feel superior to African-American people, this book is also an example of how Huckleberry distinguishes the maltreatment of Jim as a human in spite of his race, and that Jim is still a person who deserves respect as well as anyone else. Therefore, one can state that the use of the offensive and humiliating word presents the race struggle. In addition, it shows how Finn overcomes the race barrier not becoming a racist and perceives Jim as an equal to him. In general, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a racist novel. Consequently, one should realize that even though the author uses the n-word rather frequently, it is included in the novel only for historical purposes so that each reader could see the struggle of society to acknowledge the humanization of African-American people. Studying and reading the republished version of Mark Twain’s novel, students and readers will not only fail to get to know about the unjust treatment to African-American people but also will have no opportunity to read the initial version of classic literature by the famous novelist Mark Twain.

In addition to the original wording and style of the book, republishing would lead to a decline in the precision and authenticity of the time period that gives a picture of the social attitudes along the Mississippi. However, the African-American issue is not the only one that is under arguments and hot discussions. The other issue concerns Indians and the word ‘engine’ for them by Mark Twain in the book. Many people claim that this issue should be also edited in the republished novel. However, it is impossible since such editing will cut readers on the insight of the language that is impeded in the book. As a result, such changes will cause diminishment in the perception of the novel. As it is known, Jim’s name in the novel goes with the word ‘slave,’ which efficiently presents Jim as property but not as an individual. Therefore, one can state that changing at least the two above-mentioned words in the book will not only damage the reputation of the authenticity and efficiency of the novel to inform its readers but will also weaken the author's initial intentional view of Jim as a personality. According to Sally Hansen, an educator who has taught the book for 35 years, “the solution is not to change the writer – it is to educate the reader by discussing the time period in which the book is set and its language and mores”. Racial insults are used throughout the novel for a particular reason, which is to inform the readers about the societal norms and time period. This information is very serious and important as an aspect of the background of the novel that allows readers to better understand the plot and characters of the book.

However, racism and racial discrimination are only two aspects of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that are under debates and discussions. The other argument is about the fact that the book is inappropriate for children. Many critics and readers state that racial insults in the book and cruelty are too improper for children to read. Nonetheless, no one takes into account the fact that the novel was actually not written for children; its target audience was more mature people since the book contained adult concepts and satire that could not be properly understood by the childish audience. First and foremost, the novel is too advanced in terms of its context for the young audience. Today, in modern society, there is no slavery; that is why the book may seem rather harsh for children. However, the American novelist’s intent was to teach readers the general truth, including racial prejudice and resistance in society at the time. These themes would probably be not appreciated and properly understood by children. Moreover, the author also includes a vast amount of satire in order to communicate his thoughts and ideas about civilization and society, which is a literary technique that is difficult for children to understand. Therefore, it is even considered that this novel should be better taught in college rather than in high school.

To summarize, a mature reader will obviously understand Mark Twain’s intention for using the offensive word properly. To be fair, this word is not new for high school students as they use it in the hallways and hear it in the songs by many rappers. Therefore, even though there are a lot of people who claim that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a book that is proper for children, one should remember that this novel is indeed for the more mature audience than high school students.

Therefore, based on the analysis of the book, one can conclude that it is not a racist novel. Therefore, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does not need to be republished since it would lose its accuracy in depicting the period of time that the author intended to show. Regarding the claim that this book is inappropriate for children because of its context, one should remember that, in fact, it was not written for the young generation.

Taking into consideration the above-conducted analysis and arguments concerning the issue of republishing the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by the famous American writer Mark Twain on the basis of racist content, one can state that the issue is very popular among literary critics. Undoubtedly, using offensive words, such as the n-word, is not appropriate, moral, or right. However, in the case of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there is no intention to hurt or offend anyone. The only reason why the author used this word so many times in the book is that he intended to depict the time period properly and realistically. By the means of the above-mentioned word, Mark Twain showed the real attitude to African-American slaves who suffered a lot of pain, both morally and physically. He did it in order to show readers how unjust and cruel society was at the time. Therefore, there is no need and logical reason to republish the book editing the instances of the n-word. Otherwise, the message and the way the author planned to present it will be damaged. Finally, it is unethical, not right, and immoral to make corrections in someone’s intellectual property, especially when there is no way to get permission for it.

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