Parents fear that the more obvious negative aspects of Jim's depiction may overshadow the more subtle uses to which they are put.
Perspectives in Huck Finn: part 2
Critics such as Mailloux point to the reader as the component necessary to obviate the racism inherent in, for example, the interchange between Aunt Sally and Huck. This likely possibility causes parents to be hesitant about approving Huck Finn for the classroom. Huck Finn apologists view the objection to the novel on the ground of students' cognitive immaturity as an underestimation of youngsters' abilities.
As Cox's and Mailloux's articles show, the points of the novel are anything but "as big as barn doors. That Huckleberry Finn brims with satire and irony is a truism of academic discourse. But a study conducted in to examine "the effects of reading Huckleberry Finn on the racial attitudes of ninth grade students" corroborates the contention that junior high school students lack the critical perception to successfully negotiate the satire present in the novel.
According to the committee that directed the study, the collected data indicated "that the elements of satire which are crucial to an understanding of the novel go largely unobserved by students. Given the degree and instances of irony and satire in the book, the difficult dialects and general reading level of the book, and the tendency of many students to read the book at the level of an adventure story, the committee believes, the novel requires more literary sophistication than can reasonably be expected from an average ninth grade student.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Though the Penn State study does not support parents' calls for total removal of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum, it does validate their reservations about the presence of the work at the junior high level. The volatile combination of satire, irony, and questions of race underscores an additional important facet of the controversy: teacher ability and attitude. The position of the classroom teacher in the conflict over Huckleberry Finn is delicate: students not only look to teachers as intellectual mentors, but turn to them for emotional and social guidance as well.
So in addition to ensuring that students traverse the scholarly territory that the curriculum requires, teachers must guarantee that students complete the journey with their emotional beings intact.
The tenuous status of race relations in the United States complicates the undertaking of such an instructional unit. Cox, despite his affection for the novel and his libertarian views, admits that were he "teaching an American literature course in Bedford Stuyvesant or Watts or North Philadelphia," he might choose Twain texts other than Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Those who want the "classic" expelled dread the occurrence of incidents such as the one described by Hentoff on ABC'S "Nightline. The "inherent threat" of Huckleberry Finn is that in the hands of an unfit, uncommitted teacher it can become a tool of oppression and harmful indoctrination.
Assuming the inverse to be equally possible, a competent, racially accepting educator could transform the potential threat into a challenge. Huckleberry Finn presents the secondary teacher with a vehicle to effect powerful, positive interracial exchange among students.
Scout, along with her older brother Jem and playmate Dill, observes the horrors of racial prejudice as they are played out in the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, wrongfully accused of rape by a white woman. My rationale for forcing the word into active class discourse proceeded from my belief that students black and white could only face sensitive issues of race after they had achieved a certain emotional distance from the rhetoric of race.
I thought and became convinced over the years that open confrontation in the controlled setting of the classroom could achieve that emotional distance. When Atticus learns of the fray, Scout asks if he is a "nigger lover. I try to love everybody. As the reality of racial discomfort and mistrust cast its shadow over the classroom, the tension would become almost palpable.
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Unable to utter the taboo word "nigger," students would be paralyzed, the whites by their social awareness of the moral injunction against it and the blacks by their heightened sensitivity to it. Slowly, torturously, the wall of silence would begin to crumble before students' timid attempts to approach the topic with euphemism. Finally, after some tense moments, one courageous adolescent would utter the word. The interracial understanding fostered by this careful, enlightened study of To Kill a Mockingbird can, I think, be achieved with a similar approach to Huckleberry Finn.
It must be understood, on the other hand, that the presence of incompetent, insensitive, or sometimes unwittingly, sometimes purposefully bigoted instructors in the public schools is no illusion. Further, "black students tended to identify more strongly and more positively with other members of their race" as a result of having studied Huckleberry Finn.
For white students, reading the novel "reduce[d] hostile or unfavorable feelings toward members of another race and increase[d] favorable feelings toward members of another race" emphasis added. Students who read the novel under a teacher's guidance showed "Significantly greater positive change" than those students who read the novel on their own. Our data indicate that students who read the novel as part of an instructional unit demonstrated both a deeper sensitivity to the moral and psychological issues central to the novel a number of which deal with issues of race and a more positive attitude on matters calling for racial understanding and acceptance.
These students were also able to interpret the novel with greater literary sophistication than those students who read the novel without instruction. Additionally, these students were significantly more accepting of contacts with Blacks than were the other students involved in the study. Based on these studies completed eleven years apart I and , it appears that in the right circumstances Huckleberry Finn can be taught without perpetuating negative racial attitudes in white students or undermining racial pride in black students.
One has only to run a mental scan across the nation's news headlines to glean a portrait of the present state of American race relations. Such a glimpse betrays the ambivalence present in the status of blacks and their relations with whites. In "Breaking the Silence," a powerful statement on the plight of the "black underclass," Pete Hamill delineates the duality of the American black experience. Admitting the dismal reality of continued racist behavior, Hamill cites "the antibusing violence in liberal Boston, the Bernhard Goetz and Howard Beach cases in liberal New York, [and] a some places.
Hamill's article points to a fundamental fissure in the American psyche when it comes to race. Further, these details suggest that the teaching of Twain's novel may not be the innocent pedagogical endeavor that we wish it to be.
The Adventure Of Huckleberry Finn
When we move from the context into which we want to deposit Huckleberry Finn and consider the nature of the text and its creator, matter becomes even more entangled. Though devotees love to praise Huckleberry Finn as "a savage indictment of a society that accepted slavery as a way of life" 55 or "the deadliest satire First, the ambiguities of the novel are multiple. The characterization of Jim is a string of inconsistencies. At one point he is the superstitious darky; at another he is the indulgent surrogate father.
On the one hand, his desire for freedom is unconquerable; on the other, he submits it to the ridiculous antics of a child. Further, while Jim flees from slavery and plots to steal his family out of bondage, most other slaves in the novel embody the romantic contentment with the "peculiar institution" that slaveholders tried to convince abolitionists all slaves felt.
Twain's equivocal attitude toward blacks extends beyond his fiction into his lifelong struggle with "the Negro question. Leaving slaveholding Missouri seems to have had little effect on his racial outlook, because in he wrote home to his mother from New York, "I reckon I had better black my face, for in these Eastern states niggers are considerably better than white people.
In a letter proving that Twain had provided financial assistance to a black student at the Yale University Law School in was discovered and authenticated by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Washington in championing several black causes. Instead, this should make it the pith of the American literature curriculum. Active engagement with Twain's novel provides one method for students to confront their own deepest racial feelings and insecurities. Though the problems of racial perspective present in Huckleberry Finn may never be satisfactorily explained for censors or scholars, the consideration of them may have a practical, positive bearing on the manner in which America approaches race in the coming century.
Notes 1. Sculley Bradley et al. New York: Norton, Nicholas J. Karolides and Lee Burress, eds. This information is based on six national surveys of censorship pressures on the American public schools between 19 6 5 and Most scholars express opinions on whether or not to ban Huckleberry Finn in a paragraph or two of an article that deals mainly with another topic. Shelley Fisher Fishkin has given the issues much more attention. In addition to authenticating a letter written by Mark Twain that indicates his nonracist views see n. Hitchens 2 5 8.
Allan B. Ballard, letter, New York Times 9 May 19 8 z. Fall : 6. Kaplan At this point in his autobiography, Hughes discusses the furor caused by Carl Van Vechten's novel Nigger Heaven, published in See David L.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Fiedler 5. Again, see Smith's essay. Fiedler 6; see also Smith's discussion of this passage. Kaplan ib. Mark Twain, quoted in Woodard and MacCann 76 emphasis added. Woodard and MacCann Hoxie N. Fairchild, letter, New York Times, 14 Sept. Louis J. Budd Cambridge, Eng. For a defense of the early Jim as an example of Twains strategy to "elaborate [racial stereotypes] in order to undermine them," see David Smith's essay. Mailloux's discussion of "rhetorical performances" in Huckleberry Finn bears kinship to M. Bakhtin's discussion of the function of heteroglossia in the comic novel.
In "Discourse on the Novel," Bakhtin identifies two features that characterize "the incorporation of heteroglossia and its stylistic utilization" in the comic novel. Twain himself acknowledges the painstaking attention he paid to language in the novel. Clearly, through his play with the "posited author" Huck, Twain's motive is to unmask and destroy various socioideological belief systems that are represented by language. So what Mailloux refers to as rhetorical performance Bakhtin identifies as the heteroglossia struggle.
Thus Jim's successful appropriation of Huck's argumentative strategy dismantles the hegemony of white supremacy discourse present as Huck's language. Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," trans.
Mailloux Leo Marx, "Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn," American Scholar 2. Robert Sattelmeyer and J. Donald Crowley Columbia, Mo. James M. Though he ignores Jim and his aspiration for freedom in Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor, in a more recent, related article, "A Hard Book to Take," Cox returns to the evasion sequence and treats Jim's freedom in particular and the concept of freedom in general.
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