I am always a bit embarrassed and even surprised that I have never read The Adventures of Huckleberry. When I was in middle school, I thought of it more as a book for boys. While my brother was off reading about Tom and Huck, I was reading The Little Princess. Among my small predominantly white school, Huck Finn was considered a racially heightened book, and therefore was always up for questioning to be removed from the reading list. In other words, Twain just made use of the N-word much too frequently, beyond the school’s comfort level.
However, it’s equally reassuring and upsetting to realize that the novel instead acts as a progressive story that presents a world that was currently in a state of extreme racial tension, meaning my school’s reasoning for questioning the book’s intent was irrational.
I love the way Twain is able to use Huck as a lens to look into the changing setting of America, bending and refracting the way that other characters see the very same scenes through the musings of his adolescent narrator. In chapter six of the book, Huck’s father comments in his thick Mississippian dialect about a mulatto from Ohio who “was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything.” Twain leaves the description with no explanation from the narrator, leaving Pap’s opinionated statements open ended as if he wants the reader to resolve it for themselves. Throughout the story, Mark Twain uses similar techniques to present situations, to describe a story, allowing the audience to rationalize their own beliefs from the circumstances rather than giving an outright critique or answering all of the questions from his own viewpoint. He is able to create a novel that includes race, but is not solely about it.