Because of the controversy over whether Huckleberry Finn is racist or anti-racist, and because the word “nigger” is frequently used in the novel, many have questioned the appropriateness of teaching the book in the U.S. public school system.
Although I am against censorship, and I don’t think it is necessary to remove the “N” word from the book, I do advocate postponing when students read it.
While not appropriate for students in junior high school, college students and high school seniors might be mature enough to read and understand the full meaning of the book. As a youth, I never understood the subplots. I only saw the character types and felt the book served to inform both black and white students of the roles they were expected to play in society.
Although the book has a good plot, and good intentions, the use of the “N” word was enough to make me not want to go to school when we read it. I remember thinking the white students were going to think that all black people are slow and ignorant like Jim.
There are much better ways to inform students about black history than reading a book with a subservient, shucking and jiving black character. For example, I teach my children about black history year round at home. We discuss slavery as well as inventions by black people. After all, you can’t know where you are going if you do not know your history. And of course, most students discuss black history/slavery during the month of February at school. I’m not in favor of revising history or denying that racism/Jim Crowe/slavery etc. existed.
Many Twain scholars have argued that the book is an attack on racism. It humanizes Jim and exposes the fallacies of the racist assumptions of slavery. However, the book falls short, especially in its depiction of Jim. Twain was unable to fully rise above the stereotypes of black people that white readers of his era expected and enjoyed, and therefore resorted to minstrel show-style comedy to provide humor at Jim’s expense, and ended up confirming rather than challenging late-19th century racist stereotypes.
To Kill A Mockingbird also contains the N word. I don’t have a problem with this book. It also contains stereotypical messages about women and minorities; however, it’s positive messages are much easier to detect. In other words, the good messages outweigh the bad ones. In the end, it teaches you about empathy and walking in another person’s shoes. I’m afraid that many people are unable to empathize.. .