The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published today! Authored by Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Clemens, for those of you who will appreciate that fun fact) and perhaps one of the most banned novels in school curriculums, Huckleberry Finn is one of the most iconic characters in all of American literature, and his story has been rolling off the printing presses since 1885.
Yet don’t blame the “snowflakes” for the backlash to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for it didn’t take a month after the novel’s initial publication for librarians in Concord, Massachusetts to deem it “trash” and “suitable only for the slums.” Challenges to the book have always been present. From claims of Huck being a poor role model for children to claims that the novel’s incessant use of the N-word makes it unreadable, throughout American history there have always been people denouncing Huck’s story.
Yet it’s still regarded as an American classic, and is read in many high schools and college campuses all over the country. Set in the antebellum South, Mark Twain’s classic tale of two runaways – one escaping an abusive father, and the other escaping slavery – went straight to the heart of the question: what does it mean to be free? For Jim the answer to the question is pretty obvious, yet for Huck it’s quite nuanced, and is explored as the novel progresses.
Also, don’t think that Twain’s pervasive racial slurs means that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is equal to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Sure, Jim still isn’t the most dignified portrayal of a black man, speaking with dim-witted vocabulary that Twain seems to only reserve for the slave characters, but unlike Uncle Tom, he fights against his enslavement, and is shown to be just as human as Huck is when he feels intense remorse for beating his daughter. Showing that black men has the same capacity for emotion as everyone else may not seem revolutionary now, but during a time when they were seen no differently than a horse that plows your field, Twain intended to use Jim as a symbol for anti-slavery.
Published on the thirteen anniversary of the Civil War’s end, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn explores a realistic depiction of American slavery, and acknowledges that, even when Jim eventually free at the end, he’ll still face plenty of hardships, illustrating to the reader just how pervasive the effects of slavery have been ingrained in our society, even if the institution itself has been dismantled. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a revolutionary novel, and one that deserves to be acknowledges as, while far from a perfect book, has made its mark on the abolitionist movement.