Before The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was “revised” to replace the n-word with “slave,” my husband purchased a paperback copy. I’d read the book when I was around 12, and in my quest to read 100 classics, I am re-reading several books from my childhood.
I’d forgotten how much I love this book. Huck Finn is just such a likeable character. Sure he smokes, lies, swears, steals, fakes his own death, runs away from home, cross-dresses, and (worst of all) is a horrible speller, deep down, you just know he has a big heart.
From its first publication in 1884 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been challenged or banned. According to Alfred Kazin’s afterword to the 1981 Bantam Books edition (p. 296):
In 1885 the Concord Public Library banned Huckleberry Finn from its shelves. It was not altogether mistaken when it described the humor as “coarse,” and said that the substance was “rough, coarse and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.”
Yet, I argue, there is much about morality that Huck Finn can teach children. When the duke and dauphin try to steal Peter Wilks’ family inheritance, it is Huck who tries to prevent it from happening and exposes the truth to Mary Jane — although one may argue Huck had ulterior motives as well due to his crush on Mary Jane. Later on in the story, when the duke and dauphin are being tarred and feathered, Huck expresses sincere sympathy in noting, “human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (p. 230 in the 1981 Bantam Books edition), despite however much the pair may have deserved their comeuppance for all their wrong-doings.
Most importantly, Huck is compassionate and just. In a time when Whites still viewed Blacks as property, Huck stood up for what he believed was the right thing to do. He recollected that Jim viewed Huck as one of his greatest friends ever, and when Jim was captured and held captive, Huck saw that helping Jim escape was the morally correct choice to make.
But do you know who the real trouble maker in the story is?