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Racial Discrimination In The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn And To Kill A Mockingbird

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In today’s world ninety-two percent of African Americans claim that Black Americans still face discrimination. Surprisingly, this large number is considered a significant decrease from what it used to be in the past. Even after the Civil Rights Act in 1964, African Americans still feel inequality between themselves and people of other races, specifically in the south (Bates).

Mark Twain, the author of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” grew up in Florida, Missouri in the mid 1800’s. He spent much of his boyhood on the banks of the Mississippi River, and his book takes place along this river around the same exact time. In Twain’s writing he shares the mind and journey of a young boy who observes the life, romance, and violence that is displayed along the Mississippi River . The personalities of each character in his novel is designed to show the different controversial beliefs from back in that time period. Twain uses a a small handful of the characters to represent the minority group of people who did oversee the difference in a person’s color, and respect that person for who they were (Mark).

Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, was born and raised in Monroeville, Alabama. She was the youngest of four children and born of a Lawyer. Similarly to Twain, her writing reflects her own childhood experiences as the main character in her novel is also a daughter of a lawyer in the state of Alabama. Through her story, she actively portrays the differing attitudes between the colored and the whites, between the women and the men, and between the poor and the privileged (Harper).

Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Harper Lee’s “To kill a Mocking Bird” both resemble dark, complex issues such as racism and class discrimination to highlight the changing aspects of social acceptance, and the growing number of people who are finding a voice. These authors both gave their characters a voice to help spotlight their own voice in society.

As influential authors during their time, both Twain and Lee similarly developed a strong understanding of the racial, gender, and class discriminating views around them. They took it into their own hands to fight against it. It is easily stated that “The most conscientious among the citizenry must then necessarily take it upon themselves to reverse judicial decree” (Hall). This expresses the importance of a person to take action him or her self. Both Twain and Lee can be considered to have very well developed consciences. By being more conscientious, these authors became more aware than others of the social discrimination that was around them. Twain and Lee took it into their own hands by writing novels to express the beliefs that their consciouses shared with them. In Mark Twain’s novel he “explores his family and social relationships as well as his literary and intellectual connections” (Margolis). Exploring societal relations was not yet something that many people took charge of. Twain seemed to pave the way for this early on. Most people, unlike Mark Twain, in the nineteenth century were still focused on themselves. They were not yet looking at the people and the world around them. Twain expresses in his novel that “The pitifulest thing” is that people fight with courage that’s borrowed from their mass, and from their officers” (Twain). Through these words from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Twain explains how the actions that people take are not taken because of their own desire to, but instead they only take these actions because the majority of people are. This is a clear representation of the common agreement that it is easier to go with the flow rather than try and swim against it. By using the voice of Huck Finn, Twain attempts to influence people to take action based on what they believe, not what is the social norm. Because Twain’s thinking was so much more ahead of his time, “For his own safety he must cushion his directness against a society he does not fit into” (Solomon). By writing viewpoints in the nineteenth century that are still working on being accepted in today’s society, Twain was putting himself at and extremely high risk. He was able to express new, unaccepted ideas by hiding his own voice behind the voices of characters in a fictional novel. This became an appropriate way for other writers, such as Harper Lee, to later on express their beliefs on controversial issues.

The storylines of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” follow the interactions between different people to show the growing number of differing views in their eras. Authors, Twain and Lee, use the voices of their main protagonists, as well as many voices from supporting characters to highlight several different perspectives to increase their works’ accuracy and reliability. Twain’s character Huck says, “Look here, if you’re telling the truth you needn’t be afraid— nobody’ll hurt you” (Twain). Contrary to the message that Huck is getting across to Jim, this is ironic because society will hurt someone if the truth they are telling is not what society wants to hear. Huck tells his supporting character, Jim, to not be afraid to use his voice. Twain does this to show the unpopular opinion that all people should have access to using their own voice despite their color, gender, or any other classification. Because this is something that most people in this era fear doing, the message becomes magnified when told to a slave. Later on in his novel, Twain’s character Jim questions, “What’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?”(Twain). By having Jim question this, Twain, himself, is expressing how society has manipulated people into doing what is not always right. Society has made people fear that doing what is right often leads to consequences, and doing what is wrong is accepted. By writing this, Twain is sharing his belief that society is all twisted. During this era people are most concerned with what is acceptable by society rather than what is morally right and just. In Lee’s novel, she goes onto write, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” (Lee). Compared to the society described in Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, it seems that there has been some sort of growth in the society of Lee’s “To Kill a Movkingbird”. Empathy for another person is now being introduced to this society of a later time period. The comparison between these proves that with time, views have began to change. With differing views in society, “The totality of human interactions by racist motivations may be contingent upon the dynamics of opportunity as an entitlement” (Hall). For instance, people of higher class like a white lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird” may feel more entitled to what society offers than a black slave in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. The dynamics and makeup of each character in these two novels helps develop how he or she is influenced by society, and how he or she is able to influence society. In the novels, the bigger characters have a greater impact on the storyline. This is similar to how in society, people of higher class have a greater impact on the world around them.

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While “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” focuses more on the era’s racial and class discrimination, Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” zooms in on the idea of gender discrimination, as well. Twain exposes people and their faults in his writing by saying, “That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.”(Twain). This is what the society during the time period of Huckleberry Finn was like. People would get all active about major issues such as racism, but they truly know nothing about it or the rights of people. People can not reliably argue about or stand for an issue that they have no education on. Contrarily, Lee’s character, one who has a significant level of education says, “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it…Whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”(Lee). Racism is a hot topic in Harper Lee’s novel, but in this novel characters are a little more educated on the issue. Because people are willing to become educated about the truths of race, this emphasizes the changing views towards races. As people learn a little bit more about other races, they begin to understand the injustices that go along with racism. Harper Lee writes, “If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time... it's because he wants to stay inside.' (Lee). She uses this dialogue between characters to show how mistreating people can hurt them and cause them to exclude themselves from society. Someone who has good morals, like the characters above, can understand the principle of solidarity. All people are the same. All people are human. And, all people are people of God. Color, gender, or what a person owns does not make them any different. People truly are all the same, and should be treated the same.

It appears that both Harper Lee and Mark Twain are trying to express the importance of leaving the stereotypes behind that were once taught by elders, and for people to begin seeing what is truly right for society. Twain writes, “Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better” (Twain). In this quote, Tom is talking about the ignorant people in society. He is clarifying that he knows the difference between right and wrong, but the ignorance of society shields the rest of society’s people from knowing the difference . Tom, a young boy is learning, but his elders still struggle to let go of what they believe. Huck talks about his life before going on the Mississippi River and how “The Widow Douglas, she took [him] for her son, and allowed she would sivilize [him]; but it was rough living in the house all the time”(Twain). The widow is an example of an older person who is stuck in a world of previous stereotypes. She is trying to make Huck what she considers civilized. She believes that he does not fit society’s standards. The widow is unable to see that time are changing and so are viewpoints. In Lee’s novel, she says, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for”(Lee). This explains how old people are often very closed minded. They are not open to even hearing new view points, or even seeing other sides. By being this way, people close themselves off, and are left behind by an evolving society. Unlike the majority of people of their times, Twain and Lee both understand that society will constantly be altering itself. In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The novel challenges our stereotypes- of the southerner, the African American, the eccentric, the child, the young lady” (Teacher). Many of Harper Lee’s characters are people in society that are easily stereotyped and classified with certain traits. Lee chose to use the characters so she could somewhat break the stereotypes. In her writing, she expresses each character as much different than his or her stereotype. She allows the readers to truly get to know the characters rather than just seeing their stereotypical traits. Readers have to set aside previous views in order to keep up with the novel. Studies have found that “human beings are racists to the extent that they act (discriminatorily) on their ethnically prejudicial beliefs or attitudes which are based on ethnic stereotyping” (Corlett). By attacking the stereotypes, Lee and Twain work to diminish the racist and prejudice views that many people during their lifetimes had. By decreasing the amount of social categorization, these authors took the first step towards creating a society that is more accepting.

Based on their novels, and the view points and lessons they are conveying, Harper Lee and Mark Twain can both be considered ahead of their time periods. Lee explains that “[she] thinks there’s just one kind of folks. Folks”(Lee). This statement is very advanced for her time period. People were not yet seen as equals, and some were not even seen as people. For Lee to be able to accept solidarity in the world is huge. This shows that she accepted all types of people. This is a strong message that Lee is trying to share with her readers. Harper Lee continues to express her message of equality by writing, “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.”(Lee). Lee understands that the courts keep all people equal. Lee uses juxtaposition between different types of people to show that even though people appear different, people can all be the same. During this time, most people doubted the courts’ ability to see people equal despite their race, color, or social class. Most courts would rule in favor of a white, wealthy, or privileged person. In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the character Huck says, “People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference”(Twain). Huck believes that people are going to accuse him of being an abolitionist because he is helping Jim, a slave. He knew that people might hate him or judge him for keeping silence over the issue of Jim, but he still did what was right. Twain’s character, Huck, resembles Twain’s own ability to see what is truly right despite what society believes. During Mark Twain’s time, it was very unlikely for someone to have opposing views, and even more unlikely for someone to share these views. By Twain writing and sharing his novel, it shows how advanced he really was. Each character, Jim and Huck, are “so much a product of [Twain’s] environment and still so likable. Huck, especially, though he has a sound heart, has the moral values of the typical ante-bellum southerner” (Solomon). Mark Twain used his characters to demonstrate the potential of the people of that time. He created Huck and Jim to be relatable to the readers. By making them so similar to people, they were easily liked, and so were their viewpoints. Twain and Lee were ahead of their eras because of their social acceptance, and also their ability to write in such an influential way.

By writing these novels, Twain and Lee sparked ideas for how society should act.

Mark Twain describes his own writing style by saying, “There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth”(Twain). This quote is describing the small minority of people who don’t sub come to society, and who speak what they truly believe. These are Huck Finn’s words describing Mark Twain. Twain admits that he is telling the truth in his novel in order for society to be exposed and influenced by these hidden truths. Also, “To Kill a Mockingbird is frequently cited by readers as the book that has made the biggest difference in their lives” (Teacher). Because of how the novel was written, and the underlying messages that Lee shared, readers were able to gain a lot of knowledge and new perspectives from a fictional story. Lee continues to say, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”(Lee). This is similar to how in “huckleberry Finn” people always go with what the majority of people do. A persons conscience is the only thing that can distinguish them, but they have to use it. Harper Lee reminds people to act based on their conscience, not based on what they see society doing. The route with the bigger group is not always to correct direction to choose. Both Twain and Lee can be described as “Those masters who viewed the institution in this light were the noble, fine-hearted men who made the interests of humanity their own” (Hawes). The stories that they told were from their own heart. They had their own beliefs in them, and the each had their own influence on society. With both heart and knowledge, these authors saw beyond their societies’ times, and were able to share what they saw.

Throughout both “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” , a constant portrayal of the authors’ lives can be viewed within the plots. Harper Lee and Mark Twain use their novels’ characters to voice their own thoughts and feelings on extremely controversial issues of their time periods. There is a clear increase in the number of people who find their voice between the time of Twain’s novel, Lee’s novel, and modern times. The events and attitudes that Twain and Lee experienced are what helped guide them in writing their literary pieces. These authors were able to see far beyond what society saw, and they used their love of writing to share it. Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Harper Lee’s “To kill a Mocking Bird” both resemble dark, complex issues such as racism and class discrimination to highlight the changing aspects of social acceptance, and the growing number of people who are finding a voice.

Works Cited

  1. Bates, Karen Grigsby. You, Me, and Them: Experiencing discrimination in America. Natiomal Public Radio. National Public Radio, Inc, 24 October 2017., 9 March 2020
  2. Corlett, J. Angelo. “Analyzing Racism.” Public Affairs Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 1, 1998, pp. 23–. 50. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
  3. Hall, Ronald E. “Anti-Racist Racism as a Judicial Decree: Racism in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 19, no. 3, 2015, pp. 319–328. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
  4. Hawes, Ruth B. “Slavery in Mississippi.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 21, no. 2, 1913, pp. 223– 234. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
  5. “Harper Lee.”, A&E Networks Television, 27 Feb. 2020,
  6. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.
  7. Margolis, Stacey. “Huckleberry Finn; Or, Consequences.” PMLA, vol. 116, no. 2, 2001, pp. 329–343. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
  8. “Mark Twain Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography,
  9. Solomon, Andrew. “Jim and Huck: Magnificent Misfits.” Mark Twain Journal, vol. 16, no. 3, 1972, pp. 17–24. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
  10. “Teacher Study Guide: To Kill a Mockingbird: Then and Now.” The English Journal, vol. 86, no. 4, 1997, pp. 1–16. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
  11. Twain, Mark. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. New York : Tom Doherty Associates, 1989, c1985. Print.
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