Samuel Clemens might be convinced that slavery itself and its legacy are filled with shame, but Huck is convinced that his reward for defying the moral norms of his society will be eternal damnation.Something new happened in Huck Finn that had never happened in American literature before.
He does not think about the humiliating effect the joke would have on Jim.
Jim calls Huck out on the cruelty behind his antics, telling him that, "When I wake up en fine you back agin, all safe en soun', de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss' yo' foot I's so thankful.
Those voices can greatly enrich students' understanding of both the issues Huckleberry Finn raises and the vernacular style in which it raises them. It is a book that puts on the table the very questions the culture so often tries to bury, a book that opens out into the complex history that shaped it -- the history of the ante-bellum era in which the story is set, and the history of the post-war period in which the book was written -- and it requires us to address that history as well. Indeed, it is to avoid confronting the raw pain of that history that black parents sometimes mobilize to ban the novel.
Brushing history aside, however, is no solution to the larger challenge of dealing with its legacy.
The Old South deformed the consciences of the people living there, making them blind to the inhumanity of slavery.
Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" tells the story of Huck Finn, a young boy, who finds friendship in a runaway slave named Jim, despite his own racist background.Huck, who grew up playing tricks on others with Tom Sawyer, realizes for the first time that African-American slaves are capable of feeling pain, and he learns that true friends do not try to hurt each other.For example, Huck tries to play a prank on Jim, not expecting his serious reaction.That they're saying that Twain saw him that way rather than that Huck did? Clemens as a child accepted without question, as Huck did, the idea that slaves were property; neither wanted to be called a "low-down Abolitionist" if he could possibly help it.Between the time of that Hannibal childhood and adolescence, however, and the years in which Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, Twain's consciousness changed."We have ground the manhood out of them," Twain wrote Dean Wayland on Christmas Eve, 1885, "and the shame is ours, not theirs, & we should pay for it." Ask your students: why does a writer who holds these views create a narrator who is too innocent and ignorant to challenge the topsy-turvy moral universe that surrounds him?"All right, then, I'll go to Hell," Huck says when he decides not to return Jim to slavery.Irony, history, and racism all painfully intertwine in our past and present, and they all come together in Huck Finn.Because racism is endemic to our society, a book like Huck Finn, which brings the problem to the surface, can explode like a hand grenade in a literature classroom accustomed to the likes of Macbeth or Great Expectations -- works which exist at a safe remove from the lunchroom or the playground.Neither is placing the task of dealing with it on one book. But they don't require you to look the perpetrators of that evil in the eye and find yourself looking at a kind, gentle, good-hearted Aunt Sally.We continue to live, as a nation, in the shadow of racism while being simultaneously committed, on paper, to principles of equality. They don't make you understand that it was not the villains who made the system work, but the ordinary folks, the good folks, the folks, who did nothing more than fail to question the set of circumstances that surrounded them, who failed to judge that evil as evil and who deluded themselves into thinking they were doing good, earning safe passage for themselves into heaven.