The Continued Misadventures of 'Huckleberry Finn'

marktwain
The Mark Twain House, where the writer wrote the novels "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," in Hartford, Connecticut. Reuters

Myriad novels in the popular canon have been censored at one time due to outdated language, lewd content or radical ideas, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer among them. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which faced immediate backlash when it was published in the late 1800s because it depicts a friendship between a young white boy and a black man, continues to draw ire even now.

The novel, which centers on the story of a boy snaking down the Mississippi River with an escaped slave after running away from an abusive parent, was boycotted in many parts of the country upon its release in 1885, and as The Nation notes in its centennial appreciation of the landmark novel, it was called "vulgar," inelegant, ungrammatical, coarse, irreverent, semi-obscene, trashy and vicious, among other things. Today, the outrage sparked by interracial friendship could be considered not only archaic but outright racist, and yet Huckleberry Finn continues to face bans in schools within the United States, due to its rampant use of racial slurs and what may some see as racist depictions of black characters throughout the text. In fact, Huckleberry Finn was the 14th most challenged book in the nation during the 2000s, according to data from the American Library Association.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that this past week, a Quaker school in Montgomery County nixed the book from its juniors' curriculum, after a handful of students said the book's language had made them feel uncomfortable, and that it was not inclusive. In a statement, the administrators from Friends' Central School said the book would be taken off the course requirements, adding: "We have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits."

Huckleberry Finn will continue to be on the shelves at the school library, but the school's principal, Art Hall, says it will replaced on the curriculum by another seminal text, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, as well as possibly another as-yet-to-be disclosed novel.

Academics remain divided on the issue. On one hand, the book, published shortly after the end of the Civil War, continues to shed light America's shameful history of systemic racism and slavery, which will likely forever evoke feelings of discomfort. Yet the idea of changing the original language of Huckleberry Finn, to some, equates to revisionist history. In 2011, the Alabama-based publisher NewSouth books replaced the n-word (which appears 219 times in Twain's original, according to The New York Times) with the word "slave." The modification drew criticism as playing into political correctness and modifying a historic text.

For now, it remains up to individual educators to work within their school systems to determine how they approach contentious texts, whether it be Huckleberry Finn, Persepolis or The Kite Runner, the latter two of which topped the ALA's list of most "challenged" books of 2014.

The Continued Misadventures of 'Huckleberry Finn' | Culture