Why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is Not Racist

Mark Twain and his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are considered by today’s standards to be racist by critics, but neither he nor the book are. The book was written when blacks were the lowest in society and were ordinarily treated poorly. Mark Twain’s writing on the facts of life in pre-Civil War times should not be looked upon as examples of racism, for that was the way society was back then. It is absurd to degrade an author by calling them a racist just because he chooses to put a controversial character into his story and describes black people in a politically incorrect way. Although the story’s theme seems to be racist, the underlying story should be considered when making a statement. Mark Twain nor his book should ever be called racist, for he accurately depicted life in the South.

Mark Twain was one of the best literary writers in America during his time. However, he was considered a racist after he had written The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884. Mark Twain’s characterization of a runaway slave, Jim, led many to believe that his book was racist too. The Catholic Church and many moral societies decided to add it to a banned list of reading books because of its racial slurs and demeaning actions against Jim. These societies did not take into account the time nor location where the book was set. After an in depth review of the setting of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain’s background, neither he nor his book should be considered racist.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place in the South before the Civil War and is written in the perspective of Huckleberry Finn. Huckleberry is a young southern boy who grows  up with a drunken, abusive, racist father. In the beginning of the book, Huckleberry is a racist, but his experiences with the runaway slave, Jim, caused him to realize that racism is wrong. Throughout the book the reader realizes that Huckleberry has not grown up to be a racist as is his father. No racist boy would ever help a black man escape from slavery. Mark Twain helps establish that racism is not the correct attitude to have as Huckleberry guides Jim to safety. The individuals rely on each other to escape to freedom and realize that neither one of them is more important than the other. Mark Twain uses literary illustrations to describe how Huckleberry and Jim travel down the Mississippi River and become good friends even though they are racially opposite.

In the era The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set, which was before the Civil War, African Americans were mostly enslaved in the South. In the book, Jim is called a multitude of racial names and critics were very upset about this. It was, however, very common and ordinary in the South to call black people names such as “niggers.” Huckleberry’s father was a racist and started to ingrain immoral practices of blacks in Huckleberry. As the book begins, Jim, the slave, is considered a mistake to society, for the book is told through Huckleberry and his father’s viewpoints cloud his views. As the book continues, the racial slurs are used less and less as Huckleberry realizes that Jim is as ordinary a human being as he is. When Huckleberry says, “I thought he had a good heart in him and was a good man the first time I seen him,” he indicates that he is not racist by showing compassion towards a black man.

Mark Twain may have reflected some racism in his novel compared to today’s standards, but neither he nor The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be considered racist. Mark Twain lived during an era of intense separation between blacks and whites and accurately portrayed what life was like during that time. Nothing in Mark Twain’s personal life would have made him a racist. He lived in the West and the North, mainly Missouri and New York, for most of his life writing books and newspapers. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim was portrayed in a negative light as being unintelligent, illiterate, and one who wore poor attire. Mark Twain did not illustrate Jim in that likeness because he was racist, but because he wanted to accurately depict what African Americans were like in the South. Blacks were greatly disliked and were rarely given the chance to learn to read or attend school, so Mark Twain’s description of Jim should not have been considered racist and neither should he personally have been. His descriptions are simply realistic. 

Mark Twain and his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are considered by today’s standards to be racist by critics, but neither he nor the book are. The book was written when blacks were the lowest in society and were ordinarily treated poorly. Mark Twain’s writing on the facts of life in pre-Civil War times should not be looked upon as examples of racism, for that was the way society was back then. It is absurd to degrade an author by calling them a racist just because he chooses to put a controversial character into his story and describes black people in a politically incorrect way. Although the story’s theme seems to be racist, the underlying story should be considered when making a statement.  Mark Twain nor his book should ever be called racist, for he accurately depicted life in the South. 

Cover via Amazon

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1 Comment
  1. Posted September 15, 2010 at 9:06 am

    I could not have used better nor truer words my self thanks for keeping mark twains talent and reputation as it should be and thank you for your time

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