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A Timely Discussion from 1884

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Mark Twain, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Twain’s book was written as social commentary and through the lens of an unlikely friendship, readers in the 19th Century as well as today are forced to confront some of the ugly elements of slavery.

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Book-Bytes. This is a discussion of the book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

Although it was written in 1884, this book is as controversial today, as it was when it was published. You may wonder why a story about an orphaned runaway boy would create such a stir...

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Book-Bytes. This is a discussion of the book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

Although it was written in 1884, this book is as controversial today, as it was when it was published. You may wonder why a story about an orphaned runaway boy would create such a stir.

The book has been debated for a number of reasons, including its language, its literary value, its questionable behavior of the characters, its moral message, racial stereotypes, and its appropriateness for young audiences.

However…. In all fairness to Mark Twain, despite the book being written *about* children, he did not intend the book to be written *for* children. It was intended to be written for adults as social commentary.

What makes the book timely for today is its explicit discussion of racial issues and slavery. The issues and arguments of the day regarding race and slavery is articulated in the discussions between the characters. The discussions between Huck Finn and his loyal companion (and surrogate guardian), Jim, reveal the emotional conflict and cognitive dissonance that he experiences regarding Jim’s status and treatment as a slave. Huck becomes as protective of Jim, as Jim is protective of him.

Hearing these arguments in their day, gives us an historical insight on the issues of racial discrimination and reparations today. Watching the transformation of the protagonist, Huck Finn, regarding his attitudes towards slavery versus his affection for Jim, who was born into slavery, is what gives this story its powerful emotional punch. It calls attention to the conundrum regarding equality and justifying the practice of enslaving human beings.

This is a book that I would recommend for anyone who is interested in historic narratives and issues related to slavery and race. It is an entertaining read, but it may need some context for younger readers. There are also several film versions of the story that you might want to check out.

Again, this is an adventuresome read that is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Enjoy reading! Again, this is Nicole English from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University wishing you happy Book-Bytes!

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