“Huck, Jim, And American Racial Discourse”

810 Words4 Pages
In this essay, David L. Smith is an apologist for Mark Twain, defending and even praising The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He particularly highlights and appreciates the subtle jabs at antebellum society that Twain delivers in his depiction of the “negro” Jim. The persona of the speaker is clearly the author himself, stating his own defense of Twain’s work. The speaker comes from a modern viewpoint, 1984, yet considers, in his argument, the “overwhelming and optimistic consensus” that reigned in 1884. He defends and speaks for not only Twain but also “Melville, J. W. DeForest, and George Washington Carver,” all other writers who did not conform to the standard portrayal of blacks as the unintelligent, insensitive, inconsiderate individuals Jefferson painted them to be. It would be easy to say that Smith is an “abolitionist” and against slavery, but it is more important to consider that he comes from a modern viewpoint. In 1984, nearly a century after Twain first set his pen to the task of authoring Huckleberry Finn, slavery had been outlawed for nearly one hundred and twenty years. Racism, undoubtedly, still existed, but for most of the literary intelligentsia, such as Smith, the subject of the “right and wrong” in slavery was not a matter of debate. The debate surrounding the essay is in judging Twain’s depiction of the “negro” Jim and its relation to past and present racial discourse. Smith is writing at a time where most respectable circles condemn the practice of slavery, yet many still blindly accuse Twain of being a racist out of a lack of understanding of the novel. These “respectable” circles and the schoolteachers, literary professors, modern critics, and libraries they influence are the target of Smith’s words. They are the educated, the part of society that is most likely to come across Huckleberry Finn, and Smith argues that their blind outrage
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