Huckleberry Finn is one of those books that floats in and out of the public eye. Though it was last on the ALA list in 2007, it’s likely to come under criticism again with the publication of Mark Twain’s autobiography in November (is anyone else super excited for that? Just me? Okay).
So what can I say about Huckleberry Finn that hasn’t already been said? Well, a lot, but nothing that’s really appropriate. The issue most people take with it is racism, which is laughable to me. Then again, I fail to find Dane Cook funny, so what do I know? But Huckleberry Finn needs to be judged not only by its language and content, but by the overarching story. Unlike hipsters, who just need to be judged in general.
Ignoring the symbolism of the raft and the river and all that bullshit because we’re no longer in a high school lit. class, Huckleberry Finn still follows Huck’s progress from a child to a young adult. A major factor in that change was his traveling companion, the slave Jim, who was attempting to escape towards freedom. At several points in the story Huck has the opportunity to turn Jim in, but doesn’t. He instead throws his lot in with Jim’s and they continue to travel together. That doesn’t seem like a racist act to me. In fact, it seems rather moral (are you paying attention, Andrew Shirvell?)
Yet others might point to the use of the word “nigger” and Jim’s rather dumb-like portrayal as examples of racism. Given that Twain was trying to accurately relay the language of his time, it makes sense for him to use “nigger.” If an author today was writing a book with the language goals as Twain, there would be just as much criticism, just for different words. But it would still be just as accurate and disturbing. As for Jim, I can only make guesses – most likely his character is like that to further the plot. After all, Huckleberry Finn is about, well, Huckleberry Finn. Not Jim.