December 20, 2017 by thewashingteenian
By M. K. (Rin) Powell, Staff Writer
On the top shelf of my bookshelf, in the over-spilling classics section, sits my “Collected Works of Mark Twain” which was, I would say, a steal for how big it is. This book is about five inches thick and includes Twain’s best three novels and short stories. This collection of Twain’s best starts with the oh-so-controversial The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
So first, the controversy. Huckleberry Finn, in more recent times, has come under fire for its racism. Now, am I a twenty-first-century Mark Twain fangirl? It would make more sense than a casual enthusiast buying the book, wouldn’t it? So yes, I am, indeed, a fangirl. Yet, I can acknowledge that Huck Finn isn’t “very hip with the times” (especially with all n-bombs) but I will make an argument for you to not call my friend Mark a racist, and here’s why: presentism. Presentism is using modern, 21st century values on something that occurred in the past. With that said, I ask you to look at Huck Finn without using your modern perspectives. This novel came out nineteen-years after the end of the American Civil War. That was when the KKK wasn’t so bad. Now think about how Jim is portrayed. Although he is awfully stereotyped, he is also portrayed as kind, selfless and caring. The common factors of black people portrayed at this time were cowardice and idiocracy. So is the portrayal of Jim fair? For the time, yes.
Now, all that said, it’s kinda weird that this is still the Mark Twain book that is listed as a classic and assigned reading. Presentism should be used when you’re looking at Huck Finn and how it reflects race preconceptions at the time. I really don’t think it should be analyzed for literary content and therefore be assigned reading for a literature class.
Mark Twain is one of those great American novelists, so why is he being remembered for Huck? Whoever’s in charge of classic books and assigned reading knows he has more than one novel, right? I’m curious as to why we don’t hear anything about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (see Classic Book of the Month: January). I mean, come on! It has some serious allusion to the end of chivalric warfare with cavalry charges being gunned down by modern machines. This book grants women the right to vote forty years before they were in real life, plus some there’s “slavery is very bad, you know” stuff. What I really don’t understand is why it’s passed over for Huck Finn, even now. Huck Finn is an amazing novel (after all, it’s Mark Twain), it’s a bittersweet coming-of-age story, but does it still have relevance with all the n- bombs, racially fueled meanness to Jim and then actually passing it off as a black man talking like Jim does? Nobody talks like Jim does! I repeat: nobody! Mark Twain has about 28 books to choose from, and what I find baffling is that this is the one he’s remembered for. In an upcoming segment I will go further into detail as to why I don’t like assigned reading or classic book lists, but for now, I will end on this: Mark Twain is a great American novelist to be remembered, so it’s almost an injustice for him to just be remembered for this.