Discussing the Use of Racial Slurs in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Compassion versus conscience, freedom versus slavery, and morality versus immortality are some of the numerous subjects which spur debate regarding Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain’s novel is extremely controversial; however, this is not because of the story plot, but rather because of the language. Despite the novel focusing on Huckleberry Finn and his friend Jim escaping from civilization and slavery, many have taken offense stating that it is immoral because the word “nigger” is used. Although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has continuously faced criticism as an immoral novel, morality and integrity are seen through Huck’s willingness to do what is right by risking his reputation to save Jim from slavery; this illustrates the Biblical mandate of standing up for what is right, even if it requires going against a society.
Since its publication in 1885, Huckleberry Finn has been widely debated and called a derogatory and unethical novel. This is most often due to its frequent use of racial slurs; however, the novel was not intended to be taken this way. The novel was rather intended to demonstrate the injustice of slavery and prove that an individual’s community has a great influence on their opinions. Only a month after the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Concord Library banned the novel and released a statement regarding why. This statement criticized the novel by saying that ‘all through its pages there is a systematic use of bad grammar and an employment of inelegant expressions,’ and that it was “absolutely immoral in its tone, “(The New York Herald 1885). However, the novel is only believed to be immoral because of the word “nigger.” While the word “nigger” is offensive, this was not what Twain hoped to teach his readers. On the contrary, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was intended to describe the injustice of slavery and emphasize the control society has on a person’s views and opinions. This is clearly seen through Huck as the public had raised him to believe that black people were “property.” Because of this, Huck struggled with the idea of helping free Jim from slavery as he did not want to steal another man’s property ( Twain 99). Trapped between two conflicting opinions about black people, Huck chooses to save Jim instead of returning him as many would have instructed.
By risking his reputation and going against society’s standards to uphold what is right, Huck demonstrates great amounts of morality and integrity. In spite of what he had been taught, Huck notes that Jim is the same as a white man by making statements such as “…I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so,” (172), Because of this, Huck decides to abide by what he believes is right, although he knew of the possible repercussions. Laurel Bollinger, author of “Say it, Jim: The Morality of Connection in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” states that “In fact, Twain’s novel is often taught as the text that epitomizes this tradition, with Huck held up as its exemplar: a boy courageous enough to stand against the moral conventions of his society, to risk Hell itself rather than conform to the “sivilizing” process of communities he rejects,” (Bollinger 1). Ultimately, Huck determines that although acting upon what he believes means that he has to “go to hell” (237), it does not matter since he is saving his friend.
Because Huck upholds what is moral, he reflects the Biblical truth of standing up for what is right in the midst of difficult circumstances. Huck decides that it made no difference if people called him a “low down Ablitionist” (50) because he did what he felt was good. Clea Rees, author of “Reclaiming the Conscience of Huckleberry Finn,” states that “Although Huck fails to recognise them as such, he is, nonetheless, aware of crucial moral reasons to reject slavery,” (Rees 1). Huck’s actions parallel what the Bible teaches in Roman 12:2 which states, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will,” (New International Version, Rom. 12.2). By helping Jim escape, Huck is unknowingly upholding God’s standards of right and wrong. Huck does not “conform” to the ideas of the people but instead chooses to be “transformed” by following what is good and pleasing to God.
Although the presence of morality within The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has often been debated, Huck demonstrates morality because he stands up for what he believes is right and is willing to suffer the consequences for his beliefs. Huck’s standard of doing what is virtuous parallels the Biblical truth of upholding what God desires, even if it means going against the norms of society. Twain’s novel is widely debated because many people focus on the racial slurs and miss his message against the injustice of slavery. Although Huck’s decision may not have been moral by the people’s standards, it did not matter because it was moral by God’s standards. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a moral novel because it teaches two important lessons: first, that one lives to please God and not man, and second, that because society is not always right, it is imperative to come to a decision by one’s self and act upon it.
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Compassion versus conscience, freedom versus slavery, and morality versus immortality are some of the numerous subjects which spur debate regarding Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain’s novel […]