Despite all the progress society has made, racism is still a prevalent issue. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a novel that, even in its own time, was already controversial due to the lack of censorship and the brutal comparisons between races. Shelley Fishkin’s idea that Mark Twain’s work was a call to action against racism is accurate because, in many occurrences, it puts black men on a better spotlight than white men, and because it uses the demonstration of racism in the past to help people in the present have a better perspective and understanding on it.
First of all, Fishkin’s opinion is proven to be correct when Mark Twain, a renowned American writer, writes about the defects in the white men and the deep empathy of an African American man which helps portray equality, between those two. An example of this occurring would be when Huck Finn sees the Duke and the King bamboozle a grieving family by pretending to be sad about a man’s death just to try to steal his belongings, Huck expresses his disgust and shame by saying “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race”(Twain 165). Huck has been really racist in some part of the books, but as the story goes on, he is beginning to see the truth. To him the human race is the white race, which explains his comparison to being “a n*gger” if he had ever “struck anything like it”(Twain 165). The Duke and the King are starting to appear as monsters to Huckleberry even if they are white, this comes to Huck as a surprise and perhaps even a reality check. Huck is beginning to realize that perhaps Jim, a black man, is better than those two white pieces of trash. Huck doesn’t have any white parental figure left with him to brainwash him into racism, and now, his logic is starting to take effect. Leslie Gregory wrote about Twain’s portrayal of Jim’s humanity in detail in her article: “Finding Jim Behind the Mask: The Revelation of African American Humanity in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” . She describes a specific even in the book where Jim showed his selflessness and humanity by expounding on how “nowhere in the novel is Jim’s humanity more apparent than when he offers the ultimate sacrifice–his freedom–to save Tom’s life”(Gregory). When Jim tried to save Tom’s life even though he could’ve been put back into slavery for trying to do so, it helped Huck see even deeper into Jim’s humanity. Jim was the most selfless, altruistic, and human character in this novel. There are many examples to help support this statement; and another one in Mark Twain’s masterpiece is when he writes about Jim having hit his daughter because she wasn’t listening to him when in reality she had become deaf. When Jim came to realize that was the case he “bust out a-cryin’ en grab[bed] her up in [his] arms, en sa[id], ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!’”(Twain 159) This regretful aspect of Jim that is being illustrated by Twain’s masterful writing is an amazing example of Jim’s humanity and his ability to feel emotions, pain, and remorse, unlike an object or some property would. Jim is human. And Huckleberry Finn, “de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had”(Twain 92), is becoming more understanding of that fact.
Secondly, racism still being a daunting issue in the twenty-first century, Fishkin’s argument is supported by the fact that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gives its readers a better understanding and perspective on past racism to help the present issue that is present racism. Many people tend to think that racism is only a problem that existed many years ago or that only older people are racist. However, according to Sean McElwee, a writer for PBS News Hour, “Age doesn’t matter”(McElwee), racism is still in many young people’s heart. Statistics McElwee showed prove that people between the ages of 17 and 34 years old agreed to the racist assertion: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder, they would just as well off as whites”(McElwee) almost just as much as older generations. That comment would imply that African Americans are naturally not as good as white people and need to try harder than whites to have the same success. Racism is still an issue. Twain wrote some very racist things in his novel that show an even deeper racist perspective in the past such as when Huck played a mean trick on Jim and Jim got very offended, feeling treasoned by a friend. Huck’s character took “fifteen minutes before [he] could work [him]self up to go and humble [him]self to a n*gger”(Twain 89). Not only did Huckleberry think he should make Jim think he had only dreamt about a horrible experience where they both had lost each other, but he also took “fifteen minutes” to be able to apologize to Jim just because he was a “n*gger”. As this passage was toward the beginning of the book, Huck was still quite racist in his actions and thoughts, but again, that changed as he got to know Jim better and come to terms with his humanity. This relates to today’s racism, even though it is of course not as bad, Sean McElwee talks about many examples of inequality between races, and get ready, there’s a lot of them: “ Age tells us far less about an individual’s likelihood of expressing racist sentiments than factors like education, geography and race. It is beyond dispute that the United States contains deep structural racial issues.
These racial disparities are perpetuated not only through explicit discrimination, but through the power of history. For instance, black and Latino children are far more likely to grow up in poor neighborhoods, stinting upward mobility. Black and Latino men are disproportionately caught up in mass incarceration, which affects their families and their earning for a lifetime. A new report by Demos and Brandeis University finds that equalizing college graduation rates between whites and people of color would close the wealth gap by 1 percent for blacks and 3 percent for Latinos. A recent study helps explain why: Michael Gaddis finds blacks who graduated from elite universities have the same chance in the job market as whites who graduated from less selective schools. In addition, black graduates are offered lower starting salary and less prestigious starting jobs”(McElwee). Yes, this is a big quote, but a big quotation is necessary to demonstrate a big problem. Racism is not something that was solved and many people from all over the world suffer from it to the point where their life will be harder for them than for a white privileged person until he day they die. These statistics reveal the necessity for change.
Twain’s book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one way to help that, as students are still developing their brains, especially in high school, it is important for them to realize how bad things had been and how bad things still are as for as racism go. Not only that, but anyone studying that book will usually make other research about things related to the book, just like this essay proves. This all underlines one fact, Twain’s book is not a racist book and it will help future generations get better with racism. After all, that is what literature is for, learning and sharing ideas. Mark Twain was obviously ahead of his time, he even “pa[id] for the education of several black students”(Fishkin). His masterpiece will always be relevant and a call to action against racism, not for it.
- PDF version of book used: Twain, Mark. Content Server Adobe, contentserver.adobe.com/store/books/HuckFinn.pdf