Is It “Coarse”?
When “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was first published, people complained about the fact that it was so “coarse.” After all, the
protagonist is painted sympathetically, as a character with a true conscience. At the same time, he steals, speaks badly, rebels against authority, and runs away from home. In those days, the book was often banned because it was not seen as fit for young people to read. As Louisa May Alcott, esteemed authoress of “Little Women,” put it, “If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them.” Examples of the seeming “bad language” in the book included words such as “sweat,” which detractors believed should have been replaced with the word “perspiration.”
Is It Racist?
Interestingly enough, the one language choice that was not contested in those early days was the use of the N-word. Only years later did people begin to condemn the books as racist. In addition, those who ban the books complain about the fact that Jim is nothing more than a stereotype in the novel, a superstitious man who doesn’t think for himself, and merely goes along with Huck’s (and later Tom’s) plans. He is put down throughout the book by various characters, and Huck even feels guilty for helping Jim to his freedom. Perhaps their strongest argument is that Jim is not a stereotypical slave from that time, as slaves suffered much more than he ever does in the novel.
The defenders argue that the novel simply portrays the way things were during that time period. After all, the offensive N-word was used constantly, and people did continuously look down on people who were enslaved. In fact, they maintain, the book shows how inhumane people were to slaves in those days, and condemns them (in Twain’s sly manner) for acting in that manner.
Banning the Book – Then and Now
Surprisingly enough to those who would ban it today, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was also originally banned because it showed too great of a friendship between a white boy and a slave. To some defenders of the book, this proves that the novel was groundbreaking in that it shattered the stereotypes of the time. After all, writing about a white boy who befriends a slave and frees him caused such a controversy purely because it was unheard of during those times.
This post is part of the series: Notes on Huckleberry Finn
- Should Huckleberry Finn Be Banned? Exploring the Issues
- Huckleberry Finn Study Guide: Symbolism
- Huckleberry Finn Study Guide: Theme