Significant of the Issue of Race Relations in Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn": Is Huckleberry Finn a realist book? What is your response to the novel on the question of racism?


How significant is the issue of race relations in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn? Discuss with illustrative references.
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Is Huckleberry Finn a realist book? What is your response to the novel on the question of racism?

 Any literary work must be seen both in relation to the life experience and values of its author and to the sociocultural content of the times in which it remains firmly rooted. This is crucially important in the case of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn which deals with the sensitive issue of slavery and racial division.

Huckleberry Finn has been one of the most controversial books in American literature. It was blamed by the concord public Library soon after its publication in February 1885 because it was thought to contain but little humour and that of a very coarse type, " the veriest trash “, " The wheel came full circle in 1957 when the NAACP condemned the book for its use of the vernacular term ' nigger' that was described as an affront to the dignity of a whole race. Since then the controversy has generated a considerable body of criticism centering round the characterization of Jim. Many black critics have objected to the way blacks have been depicted in the novel. Probably the most irreconcilable critic among them is Chicago educator Dr. John H. Wallace who has described it as “the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written ". But equally interestingly some of the best defenses of the books also have come from black authors including Ralph Ellison and the Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison. And it has been called " arguably the greatest anti - realist novel by an American ". Mercifully the critical divide between the book's defenders and detractors is not entirely along colour lines.

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Mark Twain has been accused of using realist language in Huckleberry Finn. According to one count he has used the degrading word ' nigger ' as many as 211 lines in the course of the book. Again the book has been denounced as being realist because of Huck's frequent and apparently unthinking use of the word ' nigger ' for Jim . Mark Twain is use of the offensive word ' nigger ' has been objected to not only because it tarnishes a whole race but defended on grounds of realism. In a 1991 interview, Ralph Ellison said: “Mark Twain was being quite realistic when he used term. If I find it necessary, it I' m writing about characters that use that language, I put it down. That's the way it is. We have to learn to come to terms with it ", Mark Twain had successfully transcended his own earlier racial bias and he was far in advance of his time. In fact he had the prescience of a great writer to foresee how history would delay the fruits of freedom to the blacks and he put it in the ironic ending of the novel. Even apparently did not wish to create a psychological resistance in the minds of the contemporary readers by using a word other than the usual dialect word .we must also remember that Huck's use is entirely unselfconscious and he continues using it even after he has learnt to appropriate Jim's humanity. One can only conclude that Ellison's defense not withstanding, Mark Twain was a creature of his times. But this does not mean that Huckleberry Firm is racist.




The novel begins with the available stereotype of a comic Negro. Mark Twain had a particular scheme. Initially Jim is ignorant, superstitious and gullible and an easy target for while jokes. But until his fraudulent sale by the king he is a growing, evolving character. In the course of his  development Twain demolishes several myths of negro infertility - that negroes are stupid , that they are grown up children who need looking after and that they don't feel the bonds of family affection as strangely as the whites do . At his best Jim comes across as an adult, responsible, affectionate, protective and loyal to a fault. The novel shows that Jim may be illiterate and sometimes irrational but he is not stupid. He knows bird lore that saves Huck from the violent rain storm. In sharp contrast to his greedy sadistic father Jim acts as a surrogate father. Lastly he nurses Tom who is his chief tormentor back to health, in complete disregard of his own interests. Twain obviously intends to raise him in our esteem ultimately Jim moves out of the stereo type and becomes a human being capable of dignity and emotion and loyalty .

The side back into his superstitious comic manner is shocking. But this as also Twain's use of the word ' nigger' in no way detract from the position that Huckleberry Finn is anti - racist both in structure and characterization . As Toni Morrison said, it was in fact to Mark Twain's credit that he insisted on bringing combustible issues which the Americans of 1880 $ were trying to bury, on the table. She believes that the cyclical attempts to remove the novel from classrooms extend Jim's captivity on into each generation of reaches”. A novel that deals with the explosive issue of racism and makes plentiful use of irony requires a squires a sophisticated response. But we cannot blame the book for the fault of understanding of some of the readers.

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