Argument Essay: "N-word" in Mark Twain’s "Huckleberry Finn"

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Argument Essay:

Social transformations that provide more inclusiveness and diversity for American society make certain changes in perception of classical texts as well. Some of them, which were created in previous epochs represent the worldview’s elements of that time that can be recognized as chauvinistic or offensive now. Thus, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for example,is a perfect example of such text because the author describes the African Americans’ slavish life during the 19th century using the “n-word”, which is intolerant and unacceptable in today’s American society. The question concerning the proper way of evaluating the word’s importance for the right understanding of the issues described in the text may lead to different conclusions. Besides, it is clear that the state should voluntarily remove the “n-word” from the text in order to protect the diversified and progressive modern American society from the objections and influences that come from the past through the text.

There are two reasons for the “n-word” to be removed from the text. The first one concerns its influence on today’s society. For example, people who read Huckleberry Finn see that the author mentions “the Missouri negro dialect” (Twain 5) from the first pages – in his explanatory part. Here Mark Twain mentions this dialect as something completely appropriate and uses the “n-word” just as a non-offensive name of certain people’s ethnical group. Such detail may become a root of multiple misinterpretations today. Children, for example, can accept this word without its chauvinistic context, and in such a way, their understanding of both American history and today’s issues connected with diversity and multinational society can be perverted. In fact, if the “n-word” becomes a part of everyday speaking, it can determine many negative sequeces in both communication and proper understanding of American society with its specific problems. Besides, until the “n-word” was removed from Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, due to his great authority, would propagate it as a normal way of referring to representatives of certain ethnical groups.

Another important reason is the offensive meaning of the word itself. As Jane Shlensky claims in her teacher’s guide to Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, “the use of the word “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn may be very offensive for students” (13). It is clear, because since American society elaborated the understanding of diversity and tolerance, the “n-word” can offend not only the African Americans, but all Americans in general. In such a way, it is reasonable for the “n-word” to be removed from the text.

To illustrate the need to remove the “n-word”, it is important to appeal to the current situation regarding the issue. The schools where pupils have to study the classical texts of American literature can serve as a good example. Without the “n-word’s” elimination, some texts that include it may disappear from the American educational programs at all. Thus, as Shlensky claims, “the objections to racist words found in the text have led schools to suppress reading of the novel” (13). It means that the whole novel is under the thread of public restriction because of inappropriate words. It is obvious that much more reasonable way to resolve the problem is just to replace the “n-words” by more tolerant terms such as African Americans or Blacks in order to preserve both the sense and the whole context of the novel and at the same time decrease its offensiveness.

Another aspect related to studying the texts that include the “n-word” at schools concerns the unrealisticc belief according to which, the explanation of the context can decrease the offensiveness. As regards education, Shlensky tries to claim that a teacher can explain the pupils the context in which Mark Twain created his novel, and in such a way to help them develop an adequate understanding of the situation (14). This advice can be applied in more broad understamding: the state should provide some information campaign in order to explain the people how to understand such issues one correctly. Certainly, such way is possible for some part of teachers and pupils, likewise the information campaign can help only a part of the Americans. Besides, for the majority of American people the texts can still be offensive, especially while only some part of the novel’s readers would perceive the explanation of its context deepy, when others would interpret the text through their own experience. Thus, Shlensky proposes a very good way to preserve the text from censoring as well as to protect the people from offences and chauvinistic influences, but this way is not as effective as the removing of the “n-word” that would resolve the problem at all.

It is also important to mention, that “the use of the “n-word” was not common” in Twain’s epoch (Shlensky, 15). It means that Twain used this racist term voluntarily, in order to show the humiliated position of the African Americans. There can be at least two possible sequences of this statement in connection with the issue discussed. Initially, it can mean that the “n-word” is important for the text of Huckleberry Finn because it serves as a literary device that shows the relations between the Whites and the Blacks. Appart from that, it also means that the “n-word” is not necessary for reconstruction of the historical context because it was not common back then. In such a way, it becomes evident that much more facts show the need of removing the “n-word.”

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