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Life IS history in the making. Every word we say, everything we do becomes history the moment it is said or done. Life void of memories leaves nothing but emptiness. For those who might consider history boring, think again: It is who we are, what we do and why we are here. We are certainly individuals in our thoughts and deeds but we all germinated from seeds planted long, long ago.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Huckleberry Finn - Tawdry, Coarse, Ignorant?

Samuel Langhorne Clemens from Hannibal, Missouri may or may not be a familiar name. The degree of familiarity would certainly be attributable to a person's age and literary studies. Should the name Mark Twain be referenced instead, that degree of familiarity would certainly rise for he is one of very few authors publishing new best-selling volumes in all three of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Twain's last work, his autobiography, was dictated with the first volume, over 736 pages, being published by the University of California in November 2010, 100 years after his death, as he wished.

This Day in History: February 18, 1885

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a literary classic commonly named among the Great American Novels. Ernest Hemingway famously declared the book marked the beginning of American literature: "There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." 

Yet, this iconic book first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and on February 18, 1885 in the United States faced extreme controversy from the outset because of its focus on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antebellum South. A month after its publication, a Concord, Massachusetts, library banned the book, calling its subject matter "tawdry" and its narrative voice "coarse" and "ignorant."

Huckleberry Finn, as depicted by
E. W. Kemble in the original
1884 edition of the book
The language of the times remains offensive to many readers well into the 21st century, especially within communities of the deep South. The most striking part of the book is its satirical look at racism, religion and other social attitudes of the time. It offers a much darker, more serious tone than that of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. As a result, the novel has been banned by a number of libraries and school districts in the southern states. It has been deemed vulgar and racist because of word choice, which has prevented many from even exploring the depths of its historical context.

In this scene illustrated by
E. W. Kemble, Jim thinks
Huck is a ghost
What irony! History contains pages upon pages of controversy, passion and discussion. The more controversial a topic, the more it attracts the curious nature of the human psyche. While Twain's intended audience was adults, the issues by which it has been banned intrigue the minds of young readers. All you have to do is tell teens they are not allowed to read something, then wait and see how fast they find a copy. As for the word choice, wonder if anyone has taken the time to make a comparison of the language portrayed in the Deep South before and immediately following the American Civil War to that which is used, written and spoken, today. Which do you suppose is more "tawdry" and its narrative voice "coarse" and "ignorant?"
 Ultimately, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has proved significant not only as a novel that explores the racial and moral world of its time but also, through the controversies that continue to surround it, as an artifact of those same moral and racial tensions as they have evolved to the present day. [Source: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn]
The Mark Twain House and Museum

Related Articles:

This Day in History

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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