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Is Huck Finn Racist?

Another response to Is Huck Finn Racist?:

>> Nigger by deffinition is a negro slave. <<

No, it's a derogatory word for any black person. It has nothing to do with whether that person is or was a slave.


nig·ger Audio pronunciation of "nigger" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (ngr) n. Offensive Slang

1. a. Used as a disparaging term for a Black person: "You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger" (James Baldwin).

b. Used as a disparaging term for a member of any dark-skinned people. 2. Used as a disparaging term for a member of any socially, economically, or politically deprived group of people: "Gun owners are the new niggers... of society" (John Aquilino).

>> You must ask yourself, what is the setting of Huck Finn? Before the civil war, correct. <<

I know the setting. I addressed the point about whether "nigger" was offensive back then when I wrote:

1) Twain exclusively uses the word 'nigger' to characterize Jim. Many scholars believe this was as negative a term in Twain's time as it is now. That Twain didn't use other terms extant at the time, when he easily could have, is problematical.

Since you didn't address this point, it stands. Many scholars believe "nigger" was offensive even in Twain's time.

>> But so many times in the book is Jim put ABOVE other white characters. The white CHRISTAIN women who are hippocrits for calling themselves christain and degrading the slaves and their children. <<

Twain put Jim above the white Christians in terms of being genuine rather than hypocritical. But that's only one dimension of human behavior. Jim was genuine precisely because he was as naive and ignorant as a child. The other white characters weren't that naive or ignorant, putting them above Jim in that regard.

>> How can you say there is racism when the main character upon which everyone can compare themselves IS willing to "i felt so bad i could kiss his foot." Kissing a slaves foot is as humble as one can put themself. <<

I can say it easily. "In short, Huck Finn shows the Negro as meek, obliging, and subservient. Nowhere is there evidence of the intense pain, hatred, or despair felt by many slaves—the kind that made some of them kill themselves or kill their masters." In other words, how Huck treats Jim is only one aspect of Twain's overall treatment of slavery. The depiction of Jim as a minstrel-like buffoon is more significant than the depiction of Huck's kind attitude toward Jim.

Besides, kissing someone's foot is a figure of speech. Using that figure of speech doesn't prove one is humble. Actually kissing someone's foot might (help to) prove it.

"Nigger" means "black slave"?
>> The terminology for the time is 100% correct as well. Nigger is a black slave <<

Says who? Quote a source for your belief that "nigger" referred only to slaves. If you can't get this basic point right, you probably shouldn't be debating the subject.

>> What was the name they were given? "Nigger." <<

That was a name given to all blacks, not just slaves. As I said, many scholars believe it was derogatory even back then. People also used other, less derogatory, terms such as "Negro." Feel free to address the point, since you haven't yet.

>> Mark Twain, after the civil war, gave black students scholarships to attend colleges! <<

I know.

White plantation owners sometimes gave black slaves their freedom. It doesn't mean they weren't racist. Besides, there's evidence that Twain became less racist as time went by. That doesn't prove he wasn't at least somewhat racist when he wrote Huck Finn.

>> how can a book itself be racist if in fact the author was not? <<

Spare me phrases like "IF IN FACT." This is your opinion, not a fact. We can never look into someone's heart and know to an objective certainty whether he's free of prejudice.

Twain was demonstrably racist against Indians, as you can see for yourself at Mark Twain, Indian Hater. It would be surprising if he were vehemently anti-Indian but vehemently pro-Negro. And he's not—pro-Negro, that is.

In Huck Finn he depicts Jim as a human being and nothing more. Jim is the lowest form of human: a naive simpleton who's less intelligent and mature than a five-year-old. Twain did not advocate an end to slavery or the equality of the races, which would be persuasive evidence of his attitude. He was a mild racist who looks good only compared to his more racist peers.

>> There is NOTHING wrong with calling Jim a nigger if that is in fact what he was. <<

See above. I already addressed this point in my original posting. Acting as if I didn't address it is a waste of time.

>> Times change, but before the Civil War none had the gift of forseight to say, "Oh wait! 100years from now this is going put you in jail if you say that!" <<

People were advocating an end to slavery before the American Revolution. Writing 100 years after the Revolutionary War and 10 years after the Civil War, Twain was too cowardly to demand equal treatment of blacks or even denounce the institution of slavery. He was a racist compared to, say, the abolitionists who fought to free the slaves on the ship Amistad some 40 years earlier.

Consider the abolitionists' attitude toward Cinque, the leader of the Amistad revolt. They eventually realized he was a leader, a noble figure, a giant among men. Twain's attitude toward Jim was markedly inferior. Twain treated him like a great white father would when looking down on his "darky" child.

In conclusion: I offered several arguments about why Huck Finn is racist. You tried to address one or two and you didn't make a dent in them. You didn't address the other arguments, all of which stand unrefuted. If that's the best you can do, I win.

Rob Schmidt

A debate addendum
>> "I have no doubt that Twain wrote _Huck_ to be instructive to kids. I believe he wrote it as propaganda — anti-racist and anti-slavery propaganda — and was forced by editorial requirements to make Jim's situation less dire than he would have liked." <<

Read the page again. This comment was written by Walter Hawn, not me. He was one of my critics in this debate.

>> I find it funny how you can have no doubt and willing to bed your lifes savings on that (what you imply upon saying, "no doubt") he wrote Huck Finn for that specific reason. <<

I find it sad that you didn't pay attention to who wrote what. I doubted "No Doubt" Hawn several times.

>> You realize Mark Twain said upon his death there is NO SYMBOLISM in his story? <<

Even though I mostly disagreed with Hawn, I'm happy to critique this comment. One, people often aren't lucid on their deathbeds. Two, Twain may have had an ulterior motive for denying the moral lessons in his works. Three, instruction isn't symbolism and vice versa. Instruction can proceed without symbols; symbols can exist for non-instructive purposes.

>> The reason if he wrote the book was so we can relate to Huck! <<

Are you certain about that? Based on what? Why did Twain spend so much time on Jim's plight if the story is all about relating to Huck?

>> Everyone wants to be like him when we were his age, this is a CLASSIC, not a novel, very wrong. <<

Are you sure you're not thinking of Tom Sawyer? That was Twain's boy's adventure. Huck Finn is widely regarded as something more.

It's a classic and a novel—a classic novel—since a work can be both.

I guess you meant to say it's a classic children's book. If so, what's your point? That treating blacks as inferior is okay in a children's book that supposedly has no message?

How can that be your point when you already said the book isn't racist? Is it or isn't it? If it isn't racist, what does it matter whether it's a children's book or a novel?

You seem to be saying Huck Finn doesn't have any problems...and if it does have problems, children won't notice them. Does that about sum it up? If so, you've fallen into the intellectual trap that your predecessors fell into. You've contradicted yourself because you can't defend the book on its merits.


Related links
Mark Twain, Indian hater

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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