An eloquent defense of Jim, Twain, and the use of Huckleberry Finn in the classroom
Especially in academia,
controversy rages over the merits or evils of Mark Twain's Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn, in particular its portrayal of Jim, the runaway
slave. Opponents disrupt classes and carry picket signs, objecting with
strong emotion that Jim is no fit model for African-American youth of today.
In continuing outcries they claim that he and the dark period of American
history he portrays are best forgotten. That time has gone, Jim's opponents
charge. This is a new day.
But is it? Dare we forget? The author of The Jim Dilemma argues
that Twain's novel, in the tradition of all great literature, is invaluable
for transporting readers to a time, place, and conflict essential to understanding
who we are today. Without this work, she argues, there would be a hole
in American history and a blank page in the history of African-Americans.
To avoid this work in the classroom is to miss the opportunity to remember.
Few other popular books
have been so much attacked, vilified, or censored. Yet Ernest Hemingway
proclaimed Twain's classic to be the beginning of American literature,
and Langston Hughes judged it as the only nineteenth-century work by a
white author who fully and realistically depicts an unlettered slave clinging
to the hope of freedom.
A teacher herself, the author
challenges opponents to read the novel closely. She shows how Twain has
not created another Uncle Tom but rather a worthy man of integrity and
self-reliance. Jim, along with other black characters in the book, demands
a rethinking and a re-envisioning of the southern slave, for Huckleberry
Finn, she contends, ultimately questions readers' notions of what freedom
means and what it costs. As she shows that Twain portrayed Jim as nobody's
fool, she focuses her discussion on both sides of the Jim dilemma and unflinchingly
defends the importance of keeping the book in the classroom.
director of the American studies program at Dallas Institute for the Humanities.