Censorship and the Importance of Accurate Historical Sources Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been criticized since the day it was released. A library in Concord MA banned the book only a month after it was put into print and other libraries and schools have followed suit (Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not the only story to be widely banned, but it is one of the most controversial and well known.
Many people claim that the novel is racist due to the frequent use of racial slurs and the disrespect and mistreatment of the character Jim who is a runaway slave. Mark Twain’s famous novel is not a racist text because it is a historical account of the south during the 1840s, when racism was commonplace. The book’s purpose was to emphasize real life and mock the faults in human nature. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a young boy named Huckleberry Finn runs away from his life and travels down the Mississippi River with his friend Jim, a runaway slave.
The story follows Huck’s moral growth and maturity throughout his many adventures and experiences. The major turning point of the book is when Huck realizes that Jim cares about him, and that he cares about Jim in return. As a child, Huck is taught that Jim isn’t a person because of his skin color and that he does not deserve respect, but Huck discovers that Jim is a person and deserves more respect than most people Huckleberry met on his journeys. He comes to this decision because Jim cares for him and treats Huck better than his own father. Huck says “All right, then, I’ll go to hell. when he decides to go against the racist teachings of his childhood and help Jim get his freedom (Twain 216-217). The book was written to show what life was like in the 1840s and successfully revealed the way people viewed each other and people of other races. In the beginning of the story, Huck treats Jim poorly because he is taught that Jim isn’t a real person and he could get away with it. One of the many tricks Huckleberry plays on Jim was hiding a snake in the cave they were living in, but the snake bites Jim and Huck realizes how cruel his trick was and begins to feel sorry for how he treats Jim (Twain 55).
Events like this are the reason people believe that Mark Twain’s book is racist, but without these examples the book’s purpose is muddled and the historical reliability is gone. The book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered a controversial text because it contains derogatory language and examples of disrespectful behavior towards people of color. Speech and actions like the ones in the book were common in the setting of the book (Knab 1). People want to ban or edit the original text of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, because of these elements, but they still allow these remarks in other literary works.
Fredric Douglass used the same language in his narrative that was published in 1845, forty years before Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but people don’t challenge his work because he was a slave and his story is a historical account of a slave’s life (Bowker). The two stories are based in the same time, are about the same topic, and both aim to be realistic portrayals of everyday life in the 1840s, yet one is constantly challenged while the other is allowed to be as it is.
People today are concerned with being “politically correct” and “non-offensive”, but they have reached the point where they are willing to change history to protect the feelings of certain people (Kay). If these “racist” remarks and actions were removed from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the message of the book would not be evident, its historical accuracy destroyed, and the book would just be a meaningless children’s story. Censorship is useful to an extent, it allows people to keep mature information from children, but when it is used on history it takes away from the importance of knowing about and learning from the past.
The reason racism is so important to avoid now is because of the negative effects it had in the past. If people don’t learn about these effects, then they can not understand the importance of equality now. When books are censored, their historical accuracy is lost and they are unable to educate people on the importance of the past to modern-day (Kay). Without learning about the good, bad, and ugly of the past, people wont be able to comprehend why the world is the way it is and how they can avoid the mistakes of the past.
If the offensive content of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is removed, then people will not be able to see the severity of racism during the 1840s (Bosman). If the book is censored, then the point where Pap starts ranting about the “injustice” of a well educated black man being able to vote will not have the impact it should, representing the opinion of the average white male in the south (Twain 28). The novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is seen as a masterpiece (Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and a classic (Robert O’Meally) due to the original riting and arrangement. Without these elements, that people want to change, the book would not be as renowned or highly regarded. Although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may have some content that offends some people and they believe that it would be better to remove the offensive content, it would take away from the plot and meaning of the story. If the novel really offends someone, then they do not have to read it again or even finish reading it, but they do not have the right to change the words of someone else to suit their own ideals.
The words of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were all carefully picked by Mark Twain to carry the message of his story and editing them would be defacing his hard work. Twain often complained about his proofreaders and editors changing his work (Kurutz). The book was written by Mark Twain and if he saw the need to add these controversial elements, then we should not interfere with his decision or his historical accuracy (Kay). Then novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a racist text, nor is Mark Twain a racist himself.
Mark Twain’s novel was written as a historical account of life in the 1840s and as a result, any content that could be considered offensive to some is all added to make the literary work more realistic and a more accurate portrayal of life in the setting. Without these elements, the story of Huckleberry’s moral growth would not be as developed and the message of the book will not be as prominent. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be censored because the way the book is written provides an accurate account of life in the 1840s and without the writing staying as it is, the whole integrity of the work will be diminished.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered a classic because of how it was written. Changing the text changes the whole book and since the book is so highly regarded as it is, it should remain the same. When people claim that a book is racist, they make this assumption based on the content of the book. What people need to note is when the book is set, its publication date, and the purpose of the offensive content. With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the story takes place in the 1840s when racism was very common.
It also was published in 1885 when people in the United States were struggling with racism after the Civil War. The offensive content of the book is used to portray what life was like in the 1840s and to mock the behavior of the people of that time. When the book was written, language like that used in the text was still common and not seen as offensive as it does now. Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not racist, it just contains racist content, and this content makes the story what it is and develops its meaning.
To take away this major element of the literary work to protect the feelings of some individuals would ruin the story and would hurt more people than it would help. To censor The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would take away a valuable source of historical knowledge that allows us to see the importance of how our society has changed and developed. Without this knowledge, people will forget the importance of the progress humankind has made and will not be able to avoid the mistakes we have already made as a whole in the past.
Because of these reasons, changing the great literary work of Mark Twain Is unnecessary because The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a racist text and exposure to the harsh realities in the story will help the people of today to truly understand our past as a whole and improve our future. Works Cited Page Bosman, Julie. “Publisher Tinkers with Twain. ” National Post. 4 Jan 2011. Print. Bowker, Gene. “Mark Twain, racism and Huckleberry Finn. ” Examiner. com. Web. 9 Feb 2013 ;http://www. examiner. om/article/mark-twain-racism-and-huckleberry-finn; Kay, Barbara. “We Shouldn’t Censor History. ” National Post. 10 Jan 2011. Print. Knab, Jakob. Racism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 2011. Print. Kurutz,, Steven. “A Twain Scholar Reacts to the New, Censored Version ‘Huckleberry Finn’. ” National Post. 9 Jan 2011. Print. PBS. “Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ” Web. 9 Feb 2013 ;http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/cultureshock/flashpoints/literature/huck. html; Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003. Print.
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