Censorship And Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: Limits Of Academic Freedom? Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Huckleberry Finn, America, United States, Literature, Novel, Slavery, White, Racism

Pages: 2

Words: 550

Published: 2020/10/09

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Academic freedom and First Amendment protections in public education have historically been a hotly debated topic in public discourses and political circles. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been heralded as the greatest piece of American literature and has become a staple novel in the academic curriculum in the American educational system. The narrative centers on the rapport between a fugitive slave and a white boy, a rapport that, in light of nineteenth century historical contingencies in the United States, was unconventional and even feared. The prevailing social and political order eschewed interracial amicability, yet Huck nonetheless forges a friendship with Jim despite the fact that, as a member of the hegemonic white group, risked his own soul for a black slave that society rendered as subhuman, nefarious, and diabolical. Twain penned this seminal novel in dialect in order to authentically reflect the time period in which it was written. Thus, its didactic function is immense because it is one of the only widely hailed novels that confronts slavery in an authentic fashion through language and by moving the lived experiences of black slaves from the periphery to the center Despite how exalted this novel is within American pedagogy for its anti-racist rhetoric, Huckleberry Finn nonetheless has become controversial, especially within the African American community because of the possible influence its language and content may have on young students. Indeed, many people have called for the censorship of this novel for its controversial content and language. Rather than sanitizing history through censorship in order to alleviate guilt for past errors, publishers should not censor or ban Huckleberry Finn because, as a product of the epoch in which it was written, this novel along with other pieces of literature, play an integral role in limning, questioning, and affirming American culture and history. Teachers have a pedagogical obligation to engage in a dialogue with the issues, objections, and questions raised in these works regardless of their controversial nature. Moreover, pedagogues have a constitutional right to exercise their first amendment right which grants them the liberty to teach material that will help shape future generations of the American electorate.
Huckleberry Finn provides an unequivocally grim picture of race relations during the nineteenth century when slavery still existed as a fundamental institution in the South. Scholar Mae Ngai asserts in her Impossible Subjects that "race is historically specifica confluence of economic, social, cultural, and political factors," and it shifts and changes across temporal and geographical contexts (Ngai 7). Despite everything Huck has been taught about the inferiority and danger of blacks, he still befriends Jim against all odds (Twain 104). The first time Huck describes Jim, he articulates very negative sentiments about blacks, describing him as dumb, child-like, illiterate, and very superstitious (6). Indeed, these stereotypes permeated public discourses during that time period in order to limn slavery in a paternalistic fashion in which black people embraced slavery because they sought to be educated and civilized by their white masters (Riggs “Ethnic Notions”). Although Huck himself is not racist, his parents taught him prejudiced ideas about blacks, which ingrained bigotry in his subconscious (Fiskin 2). Whites devalued blacks and viewed blacks as less than human, which Huck conveys when he talks to Aunt Sally about a an explosion that did not kill anyone, only a "nigger" (Twain 241). Thus, deeply entrenched racism and white hegemony characterized American society during the nineteenth century, as whites viewed blacks as inferior pieces of property that lacked any intellectual capacity or acuity. Indeed, this novel is a cultural and historical artifact that provides a window into the contingencies of past societies that should not be redacted or changed *(Author 61). Artifacts must be preserved in order to retain value, currency, and meaning within modern contexts.
The evolution of American society with regards to racism has shown gradual progress from the nineteenth century into the present-day. Stereotypes attributed to African Americans centuries ago have shaped notions about race despite not reflecting reality. Exposure to such ideas further influences how African Americans and other subaltern peoples have been treated. African Americans have historically been feared and viewed as less than human. As a result, they have been exploited, abused, and lynched by perpetrators who did not receive punishment for their actions. Much progress with regards to eradicating racism has been made as signaled by the election of Barack Obama. However, minorities still suffer from the historical disadvantages of prior generations for not being white, which is evident in various sectors of society. Thus, the U.S. has not become a colorblind society and has much to learn from its storied, controversial, and ugly past that Huckleberry Finn so vividly portrays. Only by studying and internalizing past mistakes can structural change truly manifest itself.

Works Cited

Fiskin, Shelley Fisher. "Teaching Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Huck Finn Teacher's Guide/Culture Shock. 1999. PBS. 4 Apr. 2005 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/teachers/huck/essay.html>
Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens And The Making of Modern America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. Print.
Riggs, Marlon. Ethnic Notions. 1986. Documentary.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

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WePapers. (2020, October, 09) Censorship And Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: Limits Of Academic Freedom? Essay Sample. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/censorship-and-mark-twains-huckleberry-finn-limits-of-academic-freedom-essay-sample/
"Censorship And Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: Limits Of Academic Freedom? Essay Sample." WePapers, 09 Oct. 2020, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/censorship-and-mark-twains-huckleberry-finn-limits-of-academic-freedom-essay-sample/. Accessed 11 May 2021.
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Censorship And Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: Limits Of Academic Freedom? Essay Sample. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/censorship-and-mark-twains-huckleberry-finn-limits-of-academic-freedom-essay-sample/. Published Oct 09, 2020. Accessed May 11, 2021.
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