So you know what pisses me off? People who want to ban books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird because a certain n-word is used in the text. Now, it's not that I think that the word has no negative connotations, but it's a knee-jerk reflex to the word because the context of the word's use as well as the meaning behind the author's choice to use it is being ignored in favor of the catchall "racist" argument.
Firstly, I'm not trying to discount the n-word. As I'm sure we all know, it's a pejorative term that refers to dark-skinned people primarily of African ancestry. Gangsta's often like to use the colloquial version of "nigga" as a synonym with "person" in an effort to claim the word as a part of their culture (which is fairly controversial in it's own right) Interestingly enough, back in the day, it was often meant without any derogatory connotations, but simply to describe someone with dark skin.
So now we get to the two books that are controversial. First, let's start with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The American Library Association ranked Huckleberry Finn the fifth most frequently challenged (in the sense of attempting to ban) book in the United States during the 1990s. Why? Well, according to Wikipedia
Quoth the Wiki nevermore
- removed from reading lists due to alleged racism (e.g., in March of 1995 it was removed from the reading list of 10th grade English classes at National Cathedral School in Washington, DC, according to the Washington Post; and a New Haven, Connecticut correspondent to Banned Books Online reports it has been removed from a public school program there as well)
- removed from school programs at the behest of groups maintaining that its frequent use of the word nigger (212 times overall) implies that the book as a whole is racist, despite what defenders maintain is the overwhelmingly anti-racist plot of the book, its satirical nature, and the anachronism of applying current definitions of polite speech to past times.
- removed from public and school libraries because of its "racist" plot.
I want to draw attention to the bolded parts. I'll address most of them later on in this post, but for the moment I want to mention the first one, which blatantly states that the very presence of the word constitutes the racist nature of the book, regardless of the context and the intent. Despite what is often popular belief, "Nigger Jim" is not within Twain's text. It was actually used by Albert Bigelow Paine in his 1912 Biography of Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens. It was then later used by several literary critics, including Leslie Fiedler, Norman Mailer, and Russell Baker whom I shall quote.
Quoted from Russell Baker
The people whom Huck and Jim encounter on the Mississippi are drunkards, murderers, bullies, swindlers, lynches, thieves, liars, frauds, child abusers, numbskulls, hypocrites, windbags and traders in human flesh. All are white. The one man of honor in this phantasmagoria is 'Nigger Jim,' as Twain called him to emphasize the irony of a society in which the only true gentleman was held beneath contempt.
And what the hell, let's let Ralph Ellison have a go at it too.
[quote] Ralph Ellison
Huckleberry Finn knew, as Mark Twain, that Jim was not only a slave but a human being [and] a symbol of humanity . . . and in freeing Jim, Huck makes a bid to free himself of the conventionalized evil [i.e., slavery] taken for civilization by the town. [/quote]
Going back to the first part which I bolded, let's address the remainder of the points. The quotes above should attest to the anti-racist nature, so that leaves the satirical nature.
The dictionary defines 'satire' as:
1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.
2. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.
3. a literary genre comprising such compositions.
Let's remember that Twain is making fun of the South's racism. He's trying to present it in such a tongue-in-cheek way that people feel ashamed of being racist because they realize just how ridiculous it is. And it's not like this is the first time he's done this either. He used to write for a paper, and when he tried straightforward stories that didn't get much reading, he went for the satire.
Remember kids, as history will tell you, the best social criticism is often done through humor. That's how the Greeks got away with making fun of political leaders: Satirical plays. If people are laughing, they're also going to be letting in some of your message. Being preachy gets you nowhere. Of course, I can forgive those who condemn Huck Finn to some degree. In the written word sarcasm, satire and irony can be hard to figure out, especially if one is unfamiliar with the context of the author's worldview, world and life.
But when it comes to To Kill a Mockingbird. I have no pity. Mockingbird is not a satirical book. It's clearly upfront about what's going on and about what it's trying to tell you. Guess what? Yes, there are racists in the book. Bu here's the catch: They're the antagonists! They even try to kill the main characters who are just kids!.
The black man in the book is on trial for the accused rape of the villain's daughter--In actuality, he's been framed by her because she's too ashamed to admit that she's been sexually abused by her father. Despite her antagonism, Atticus Finch still claims to pity her for her father's crimes--the father of the two main characters, Atticus Finch, decides to take on the case to prove the man's innocence, despite the fact that the town encourages him not to.
That's right. Atticus is defending a black man, which we can all agree is not a racist action. He's also portrayed as a wise man, a good parental figure, and a role model almost as blameless as Christ himself. So you have the racist villain, and the non-racist Messianic symbol sending a very clear message of tolerance, and somehow the book is racist simply because of a word choice? I'm sorry, but that's just made of Epic Fail.
Edited by Mega X.exe on November 19, 2007 at 20:47:06.
Edited by Mega X.exe on November 19, 2007 at 22:51:20.