Features Magazine Volume 69, Issue 1

To Read or Not to Read

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is “The best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since,’” according to 20th century writer Ernest Hemingway. While there are many that agree with Hemingway’s praise of this novel, there are others who have been critical of this book. Despite the criticism, I feel that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be taught in high school English classes because it helps students understand racism during the Civil War era in the South, assists students in learning about symbolism, and entertains readers.

One reason why this novel is important to study is that it provides readers with information about the racist manner in which African Americans were treated by white Southerners before the Civil War. In particular, the novel features an African American character named Jim who is a slave of Widow Douglas. Other white characters in the book use demeaning language such as the “n” word  when referring to Jim. For this reason, many critics disapprove of this book. On the other hand, I believe Mark Twain’s intent in using this word is to illustrate to readers how unfairly African Americans were treated during the 19th century. Also, at the end of the book, Twain’s oppostion to slavery is demonstrated as Huck ends up freeing Jim. 

Another reason that this novel should be taught is that it provides opportunities for students to study symbolism. Some of the important symbols in the novel include the Mississippi River, a raft, a steamboat, and the number of the characters. It is important to study symbols because they are a way for authors to communicate their ideas in literature.

Lastly, from an entertainment standpoint, there are a number of scenes in the novel that are funny. For example, in one scene in the book Widow Douglas is attempting to teach Huck Finn about Moses. After she explains Moses has been dead for centuries, Huck Finn becomes uninterested about Moses because he is dead. Rather than focus on the important teachings related to Moses Huck mutters to himself that “I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.” 

In summary, he Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ought to be included in high school students study of literature because it provides students with knowledge about racism in the pre-Civil War South, teaches students about symbolism, and offers amusement. Fortunately, many educators still believe in the worthiness of this novel as it continues to be taught in many high schools today.