Black Humanity in Huckleberry Finn Essay

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Black Humanity in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Lauded by literary critics, writers and the general reading public, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn commands one of the highest positions in the canon of American literature. On an international level, it is “a fixture among the classics of world literature” (Kaplan 352). It “is a staple from junior high . . . to graduate school” and “is second only to Shakespeare in the frequency with which it appears in the classroom . . . ” (Carey-Webb 22). During the push for school desegregation in the 1950s, however, many parents raised serious objections to the teaching of this text. These objections centered around Twain's negative characterization of Jim and
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Twain completed Huckleberry Finn in 1884, at a time when black identity in American society was undefined. Even though blacks had been granted citizenship in 1870 by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, Southern white society still looked upon them as sub-human creatures without souls or feelings. Post-Civil War Federal Reconstruction programs had failed miserably in their goal to re-unite a divided nation and to give economic and legal assistance to blacks struggling to find their place in white mainstream society. Instead of improving the status of blacks and establishing in practice those rights to which they were constitutionally entitled, the programs only succeeded in proliferating the alienation of an already demoralized white South and escalating racial tensions. The subsequent passage of Jim Crow Laws fortified the existing chasm between whites and blacks by legalizing segregation and institutionalizing the disenfranchisement of blacks from American society. W. E. B. DuBois frames a tragic but accurate picture of black status during this time in his work The Souls of Black Folk: “The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of the night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue

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