Monday, February 1, 2016

An Unflattering Portrait

Smiley sees The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin as an overrated book that misses a large opportunity to change the racial history of American culture by writing the relationship between Jim and Huck they way it was. Morrison, on the other hand, sees the story to be more of about a boy’s growth and self-discovery than about race—she even asserts, “it’s Huck’s adventure, not Jim’s (389).”  While I respect Smiley’s interpretation, I have to say she paints a quite unflattering—and inaccurate—portrait of both the book and it’s author. I agree with Morrison, the book is about Huck. The story is a kind of bildungsroman of Huck and his struggle to find where, or if, he fits in society. The interactions in the story that may be condemned because of their “racist” qualities are interactions that are accurate to the time they were taking place in. Similar to how Quentin Tarrantino uses racial slurs in his period-films to create a realistic setting, Huck and all others who treat or speak to Jim like a slave, are behaving with appropriateness to the time they were living in. Smiley decides that this book is bad for culture based soley off one aspect of the story that she doesn’t agree with. It doesn’t serve the purpose she wants it too so Smiley condemns the novel as a bad example of how interracial interactions could be—almost to the point of blaming it as the source of the remnant’s of racism in the country today—especially because Huck doesn’t, “actually act in the interest of humanity,” by immediately helping Jim to be freed (362). The problem I have with this is that this book wasn’t not written to be an Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as Smiley insists on comparing it to. This book is about one boy’s adventure in the mid 1800’s. This is not the book written to inspire freedom for all slaves. That is not its purpose. Huck is about 13 years old, struggling to understand a civilization that he was never really a part of, and we want to criticize him for being conflicted about going against everything he was taught? He, more times than not, chooses to do what is right and just in his struggles with his conscience over helping Jim. Like Kolvenbach and King, Huck embraces the choice to promote justice and help a friend and an equal—because that is how Huck views Jim. It is easy to see why people, like Smiley, would be so quick to make this book about race and race alone, especially after reading the struggles the Black community went through in King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail but those injustices are not the case in the novel. The world of Huckleberry Finn is a very different place from the world of King, just as the world of King is a very different world from that of today. Kolvenbach said that, “injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and it’s solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one’s heart…” and, as we watch time progress (from Huck, to King, to now) it is easy to see that conversion’s effectiveness (13). While it may be impossible to turn every heart, it seems that the world has chosen to “be extremists in the cause for justice,” as King said.

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