Trying to Tame Huck Finn

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most frequently banned books in America. I regularly teach it in my American Lit class. I never use “the n-word” in lectures, and I remind my (mostly white) students of the power of the word, but the version of the text I assign doesn’t edit that word out. I also have students listen to an audio interpretation of Pap’s tirade, in order to draw attention to how the author uses humor to mock the most openly racist character in the book.

I think they recognize the stereotyping at the beginning of the novel, but I think they also recognize that during their time on the river, that Jim grows beyond this stereotyping, that Jim is truly being shown as a man–a man who has been deprived of freedom, a man who has been deprived of his family–but a man, a man who loves his family. Little by little, the things that Huck has been told and taught about slaves, though he’s not ready to say these things are not true of slaves, he little by little, through direct experience with Jim, finds out that these things are not true about Jim, that Jim loves his family, that Jim is always doing something more for him. He’s not used to that in the adult men he has seen and lived with–his own father, the duke, and the king. He hasn’t seen this kind of generosity, this real father figure. But the students also see the stereotyping, the superstition, the return of Jim to a more stereotypical figure at the end of the book. —Humanities (NEH)