Mark Twain’s Use Of The N Word In Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

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The N word, a racist, frivolous word by today's standards, but was is always like this? Mark Twain explores this idea in his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In his novel, Huck Finn and Jim go on an adventure together to freedom. On their way, Mark Twain uses the N word 219 different times to show how much people used it in the 1800’s. Mark Twain’s use of the N word in his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be kept because it was meant to be satirical, it meant a different thing during the time period, and it is part of our culture and should be explained.

Although the book is a classic, many schools are banning it because of its lack in temperance, the harsh language, and how the N word is thought of by today’s standards. Hurwitz explains parents and students thoughts on the language as, “Throughout the...But this factor is of no concern to the would-be book-banners; it is the ‘n’ word that distresses them.” The N word offends students and parents and makes them feel uncomfortable. Even though this is how people talked in the 1800’s, the N word has been thrown away as a part of our past and a word that is hurtful and racist by today’s standards. Although this is a valid point, Twain did not mean for this word to be offensive instead, he meant for it to be more satirical. Peter Salwen defends Twain’s use of the word in his article by stating, “Anyone who imagines that Mark Twain meant this literally is missing the point.” Mark Twain did not mean for this word to be so offensive, instead, he made it to be more satirical. The word is an exaggeration and meant to be funny. Mark Twain satirized the word when Huck was talking to Aunt Sally about his trip. Aunt Sally asked if anyone was hurt on the steamboat and Huck replied, “No’m. Killed a nigger” (Twain 240). Twain satirized the fact of people not seeing slaves as human beings as well. He did this to add some comedic relief to an otherwise boring scene.

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While the books’ language is relevant to the time period, many people find the word to be crude and hurtful. Moore explains the distaste of the word by parents and students, “Teachers have told him that they cannot use the book in class ... ‘At public readings, he has routinely substituted ‘slave,’ he says, and hears ‘an audible sigh of relief’ from the audience.” Parents and students do not like the use of the word and are relieved when it is replaced with slave. This fact is true, but the word teaches students how to think critically about offensive ideas. Hentoff proves this by stating a judge’s words, “Words can hurt, particularly racist epithets,’ Reinhardt wrote, ‘but a necessary component of any education is learning to think critically about offensive ideas.” Although the language is harsh, it will teach students how to think critically about offensive ideas. The N word should not be a matter of offense but rather a matter of learning about our past. Rawls furthers this idea by sharing how many times the word shows up in the novel. Rawls explains just how many time Twain’s uses the N word in his novel, “I want to provide an option for teachers and other people not comfortable with 219 instances of that word.' The word was used so often back then that Twain found 219 different uses for it. The N word is a part of our past and how people talked.

Even though the word is a part of our past and how people talked, parents and students still do not accept Mark Twain’s use of it. Marc Shultz and many other experts explain this rejection as, 'This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind... ‘Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.' In the 1800’s, the N word was thrown around by everyone who was anyone and was never thought of as racist. By today’s standards however, the N word is seen and racist and unnecessary. While this is a valid point, scholars do not like the change of a literature classic. Philip Rawls and other scholars prove why this change is bad, “Gribben was well respected, but called the new version ‘a terrible idea.’ The language depicts America's past, Railton said, and the revised book was not being true to the period in which Twain was writing.” The language that Twain used, was relevant to the time period and should be taught, not scrutinized. Salwen also defends this by explaining that the use of one word should not define whether the novel is taught or not. Philip Salwen defends the word by stating, 'It's such a shame that one word should be a barrier between a marvelous reading experience and a lot of readers,' Gribben said.” Although the word is hurtful, it is how the people talked in the early 1800’s and is a part of our history that should never be forgotten.

In conclusion, the N word in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be taken out because it was meant to be satirical, it did not mean the same thing back then, and it is a part of our history and should be explained, not changed. One word should not be the defining factor between learning about our past and covering it up. Books like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be taught in schools to explain what life was like in the 1800’s.

Works Cited

  1. Hentoff, Nat. 'Expelling Huck Finn.' Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 Nov. 1999.
  2. Hurwitz, Howard L. “PC Crowd Bans Huckleberry Finn Because Mark Twain Used `N’ Word.” Human Events, vol. 51, no. 35, Sept. 1995, p. 19. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9509234281&authtype=geo&geocustid=s8475741&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
  3. Martha T. Moore. “‘Huck Finn’ Navigating Choppy Waters Again.” USA Today. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=J0E199015344711&authtype=geo&geocustid=s8475741&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.
  4. Rawls, Phillip. “Huck Finn: Controversy Over Removing the ‘N Word’ from Mark Twain Novel. The Christian Science Monitor, 5 Jan. 2011, www.csmonitor.com/Books/Latest-News-Wires/2011/0105/Huck-Finn-Controversy-over-removing-the-N-word-from-Mark-Twain-novel.
  5. Salwen, Peter. “Is Huck Finn Racist?” www.salwen.com/mtrace.html.
  6. Schultz, Marc. “Upcoming NewSouth ‘Huck Finn’ Eliminate The ‘N’ Word.” Publishers Weekly, vol. 258, no. 1, Jan. 2011, pp. 6–8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=57235805&authtype=geo&geocustid=s8475741&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
  7. Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Barnes and Noble, 2003
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