Tuesday, February 2, 2016


There is a great amount of discussion regarding what societal effect The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn possesses, which is of course, the reason for the debate over whether it should be banned. People rarely argue in favor of banning books which are simply poorly written, but rather books discussing or arguing a controversial topic that they believe may be unsuitable for some readers. Mark Twain's novel seems to subtly accomplish what Martin Luther King suggested should be sought out in his Letter From Birmingham Jail: Demonstrating the existence and extent of racism.
 Critics such as Jane Smiley argue that Twain's novel should not have served as the basis for most American Literature, because its approach to depicting characters of color, particularly Jim, was ultimately superficial and self serving; that it did not demonstrate any level of depth beyond being simply human. Toni Morrison described how his reading of the book often incited fear within him, and future readings still maintained a certain level of unease. But it would seem that these reactions mean that Twain has accomplished exactly what he intended: Provoking the reader. Books rarely possess any kind of effect if they do not engage the reader, and those that can elicit such strong responses are often the most effective.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to the modern reader, seems to juxtapose the seemingly innocent and escapist adventures of a boy fleeing down the Mississippi against the realities of a racist and dangerous 19th century environment. To some reading during this time period, these realities may have been lost in the mix, as they may have seen these as atmospheric aspects, and likely did not view them as having any significance. But it would seem that Twain sought to expose racism in a realistic form, in that he did not always attribute any aspect of good or bad to it, but treated it like another part of the world. These would seem to force the reader to decide whether this society was truly racist, and leaves it to them to decide how they should feel about it. Twain clearly demonstrates racist characters, even if no one but the reader is around to condemn them, and this would seem to accomplish what Martin Luther King suggested, in that it forces the reader to come face to face situations which are, at least to this reader, clearly racist, without judging the scenario for them. How the reader responds may say more about them than it does about the book itself. Jane Smiley responds with revulsion, Morrison responds with fear, but in either case, they were forced to come to those feelings upon their own power.
Kolvenbach's article argues that Jesuit Higher Learning should promote justice. But that justice must come from people. One cannot simply allow a work to define them, to support only works which demonstrate something we may consider positive, such as with Smiley's admiration for Uncle Tom's Cabin. Readers must come face to face with the starkest display of racism and decide for themselves how to respond.

No comments:

Post a Comment