by Pam Ripling
Raise your hand if you’ve read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain [pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens](1835-1910). If so, did you read it on your own, or was it assigned reading? What did you think about it at the time you read it? Has your opinion changed now that (if) you are older?
I ask these questions because while on the surface, this “classic” appears to be about a boy’s adventures on a river raft with an escaped slave, there are some very deep concepts between the pages of Twain’s sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And while the escapades are wildly different than those of today’s youth, the protagonist’s underlying goals are the same: freedom and adventure.
Can you imagine being kidnapped by your own drunken father, whose intention is to steal money from you? No wonder Huck fakes his own death, steals a canoe and shoves off down the Mississippi River, content to go where the water takes him. When he comes across Jim, a runaway slave, they become natural traveling companions, each seeking a personal freedom as they traverse the river together.
The book was and still is considered nothing if not controversial. Many libraries banned the book, citing young Huck as sacrilegious, immoral, and his stories inappropriate for children. While some consider the story to be a satirical, powerful attack on racism, others claim its intent was inherently racist. Twain’s liberal use of the “n” word still shocks readers who may not realize the moniker was common language in the 1840’s, and the work would likely be deemed unrealistic without its use.
It might surprise you to learn that as recent as 1998, an Arizona high school parent sued a school district for mandating the reading of Huck Finn, asserting that the book exacerbated existing racial tensions between students.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in 1884, in England, and in 1885 in the U.S. One-hundred twenty-five years later, the debate, and the book’s reputation as a “classic”, still stirs controversy. One might well wonder if Twain really intended to evoke emotion with a strong statement about the human condition, or if he was just writing an adventure story about a boy, his friend and their travels down the Mississip. What do you think?
Pam Ripling is the author of middle-grade mystery, LOCKER SHOCK! Buy it at Quake, Fictionwise or Amazon today! E-book version now available for your Kindle! Visit Pam at http://www.beaconstreetbooks.com/.