Monday, December 14, 2015

Huckleberry Finn and Political Correctness

Oh, my. It's happening again. Huck Finn has come under attack.
The book which Ernest Hemingway claimed is the well spring from which all meaningful American fiction emanates has been stricken from the curriculum, this time not from a public school, but from a private Quaker school in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which just goes to show, public schools are not alone in their sad impotence to really educate young minds.

The problem is, the principal explained, the use of "the N word" and the depiction of Black slaves made some students uncomfortable.

Isn't that the point of education? 

First, allow me to say the "N word" is "Nigger." We should be brave and bold enough to use that word in polite company to face the ugly truth. Very religious Jews would not speak the word for "God" because they felt even giving the name a human voice would violate the reverence man should have for the supreme being. Now we have the same sort of thinking, in reverse.  "Nigger" is simply too vile a word to be used by sensitive souls. 

If the use of the word "Nigger" were the worst offense, one might say you are missing the most disturbing things. The fact is, slaves were thought of as children, with intelligence roughly the level of a very smart poodle, and Jim, the slave, is fairly infantile in his superstitions and in some of his fearful behavior. 

Of course, the climax of the book arrives when Huck, who has treated Jim with the casual contempt white boys of that time and place were wont to do faces the great choice of the book:  Jim, it turns out, has a family, a wife and child and if he can get to freedom, to a free state, he can work and then purchase their freedom, or maybe arrange for them to be stolen out of slavery. Huck and Jim arrive at a divide in the river, and if Huck helps Jim take the branch to freedom, Huck will violate the most serious rule of white Southern life--you keep the slaves down. 

Huck struggles with this choice. He knows what "right" is here: Return Jim to his rightful owners. But he has also gotten to know Jim as a human being, that is, he has seen the undeniable humanity in Jim and that is the real sin in Southern culture.  Finally, Huck says, well, then, I will go to Hell. I always knew I was headed there, so this will do it for sure.

It turns out, of course, Jim's owner had died and in her will set Jim free, but neither Huck nor Jim knew this. Tom Sawyer knew this, but did not tell either, until he had milked all the fun out of Jim's ignorance, proving the true venality of Mr. Sawyer. 

This is one of the most subversive books in American literature. Written as if it comes from the heart of the South, embracing the most hideous of Southern core values, but exposing the most basic problem with those values--the denial of one people's humanity by another people's arrogance and willful selfishness.

Central Friends School
None of this will be discussed at the Friend's school in Pennsylvania. The students there are too delicate to face the cruelty and the lessons buried deep within. 

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