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Should Huckleberry Finn Be Taught in High School Classrooms?

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Last updated on September 1, 2021

We live in a world where racial stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination are common. Certain factors exacerbate these stereotypes such as social media, which holds the power to publicize statements and opinions in a matter of seconds. In attempts to stop the prevalence of racial prejudices, society condemns those who associate themselves with such sentiments in an internet movement known as “cancel culture.” Similarly, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is subject to be censored from the school curriculum due to its frequent use of derogatory words and phrases.

However, this novel does contain much value, as the use of such words and phrases has an effect on the reader and what the reader can gain from the material. Thus, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should only be included specifically in college university courses, as it helps educate students about true events in the past while maintaining a level of maturity and readiness to understand the novel.

Very seldom is accurate, history-rich, literature read in English classes, which is why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an effective learning tool. Similar sentiments are expressed by Elizabeth Absher, an English teacher at South Mountain High School when she refers to Mark Twain’s words as she explains, “…it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that’s something I’d talk about in teaching it.” It is clearly stated here that the objective of the book is to educate, not ridicule or hate.

By using such explicit words, the reader is drawn to the story and is given a portrayal of the reality of the south. The California director for People for the American Way, Jean Hessberg, provides another perspective as to how the story of Huck Finn contributes to student’s education when she remarks, “What people forget to remember is that we can’t take away parts of history as if they didn’t happen.”

This is true, as the censorship of Twain’s novel will not only take away a valuable learning opportunity, but it will also appropriate the suppression of certain parts of history that have shaped American history as we know it today. Removing an outlet for students to be able to experience what the South was really like from an outside perspective limits the full understanding that one could achieve about racial stereotypes.

This censorship does not only apply to schools banning this book but the replacement of the “n-word” with the phrase “African American” or “slave” sugarcoats history and leads the reader to believe that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is merely for entertainment purposes. Such ideas are expressed by Lorrie Moore when she explains that the solution to appealing to both sides of the inclusion of Huckleberry Finn in educational curriculum debate is not to replace the n-word with other alternative phrases.

Mark Twain intentionally used both the n-word and the phrase “slave” to indicate that the two carry different connotations, and thus the replacement of one with the other would disrupt the tone, purpose, and understanding of the novel. Hence, this novel is so valuable as it breaks the reality of the south down to the simplest level by using realistic diction, something that even most history textbooks do not achieve.

Although Mark Twain’s novel is a great learning device for students to look into the past, its implementation should only be included in college courses. The problem with the book is not the use of certain words and terms, but the application of them. Lorrie Moore draws a parallel between Huck Finn and reality when she says, “The derogatory word is part of the problem, but not the entirety of it hip-hop music uses the same word. Of course, the speakers are different in each case, and the worlds they are speaking of and from are very distant from one another. The listener can tell the difference in a second. The listener knows which voice is speaking to him and which is not getting remotely close.”

This statement reflects the fact that the majority of high school students have been exposed to a plethora of derogatory terms in one form or another. Yet, Huckleberry Finn is a rather rough transition into heavy literature, as it uses derogatory terms to explicitly refer to the African Americans in the South.

Moore brings up further reasoning as to why high schoolers should not be introduced to such literature, as she asserts that, “if it were taught, student alienation might very well contribute to another breed of the achievement gap. Huckleberry Finn is suited to a college course in which Twain’s obsession with the 19th-century theater of American hucksterism the wastrel West, the rapscallion South, the economic strays and escapees of a harsh new country can be discussed in the context of Jim’s particular story (and Huck’s).”

According to Lorrie Moore, students who are taught these kinds of books in high school will often be too caught up in the explicit diction, and not grasp the full message of the book. Instead, high school students should read less intense books, to fully prepare them for novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Not only is this the case for Huck Finn, but with other complex stories containing unreserved diction such as To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that communicates the complications of social class.

The censorship of Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is unnecessary as it deprives students of an accurate portrayal of society. Not only does this book contain accurate depictions of society, but it also contains characters that the reader can make a personable connection with, further drawing them into the novel which contributes to a full understanding of it.

However, novels of this caliber must not be implemented into the education curriculum prematurely, and instead be introduced to students later in their academic careers. Doing so would create an environment of understanding as well as maturity, not attainable within a high school classroom.

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