TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
text/plain; charset="utf-8"
Sun, 28 Mar 2021 15:34:22 +0000
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
"Bliss, Donald" <[log in to unmask]>
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (1 lines)
Let’s not overlook that Twain’s attempt to address the flagrant racism against the Chinese cost him a job at the San Francisco Moring Call as a struggling young journalist. This was the beginning of a lifetime commitment to remedy historical wrongs against Asian Americans, racism that is again rearing it’s ugly head. 

Sent from my iPhone

> On Mar 27, 2021, at 11:10 PM, Peter Salwen <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Stephen, just a few words of appreciation for your observations on
> "Huckleberry Finn," which to my mind perfectly capture and summarize the
> tricky, frustrating admixture of racist and fiercely anti-racist elements
> in both the book and its author: the power and humanity of the raft scenes
> on one hand, and on the other the regrettable minstrelsy & stereotyping in
> the "Evasion" chapters, where, as you put it so eloquently, "the novel
> betrays Jim, its anti-racist agenda, and its own greatness."
> For the good stuff a lot of credit must go to the abolitionist Langdon
> family, who somehow managed to achieve a wondrous transformation in the
> unapologetic racist who came a-courting their daughter in 1868. But even
> they couldn't work miracles, and for Twain, throwing in a little "darky"
> humor must have looked like an obvious & perfectly OK way to get to the end
> of a novel that was still refusing to finish itself after 10 years of work.
> Damn shame, though. And it does leave us Twain lovers, and especially the
> educators among us, with a real mess on our hands.
>> On Sat, Mar 27, 2021, 1:49 PM Railton, Stephen F (sfr) <[log in to unmask]>
>> wrote:
>> I hope you'll let me respond to two different threads.
>> First, the electronic archive Mark Twain In His Times has quite a few
>> different texts from his various lectures and tours at
>> But the question about racism is obviously more important, for our culture
>> and for Twain's future place within it.
>> As perhaps some of you already know, I've been arguing for a long time
>> that Huck Finn -- the novel; the boy obviously has the racist beliefs of
>> his culture, which is the basis on which Twain builds his ironic narrative
>> -- that HF is AND isn't racist: that while many if not all of the scenes on
>> the raft challenge America's racist preconceptions, at a number of points
>> -- and especially during the Evasion -- the novel perpetuates the racist
>> stereotypes that grew from slavery and that still haunt our society.  I
>> realize I've had very little success getting most of the Twain community to
>> agree.  But here I want to underline two things, that may help carry our
>> conversation forward:
>> The U.S. was "racist" when Sam Clemens was a kid, and racist in 1885 when
>> HF was published, and it is still deeply if now more insiduously  and
>> unconsciously racist in 2021.  I recognize that as someone who grew up in
>> the U.S. I still have my share of unconscious racism -- how could I not,
>> having for example grown up in a city (Elgin Ill in the 50s) with a 10%
>> population of blacks whom I never saw, while watching hours of TV and
>> movies where blacks were depicted in the stereotypical ways that make white
>> America comfortable.  But of course the U.S. is also struggling to outgrow
>> racism, to be the truly democratic society our principles declare it to
>> be.  And to me, that's the wonderful thing about Huck Finn -- that it
>> racist and anti-racist, like our culture then and now, and so can hold a
>> really powerful mirror up to the best and worst about ourselves.  Could
>> Mark Twain have been so beloved as a figure in our culture if he didn't
>> know how to give white audiences what they wanted?  That his work often
>> transcends their appetites is why we spend so much of our lives reading and
>> thinking about him.
>> Second: for that reason I want HF to remain part of the curriculum, though
>> teachers should not teach it unless they are prepared to consciously
>> confront the extreme discomfort the novel can cause, and prepared with
>> their students to look closely at both the novel's best moments and the
>> ways in which the novel betrays Jim, its anti-racist agenda, and its own
>> greatness.  But I think that as long as such a large part of the Twain
>> community keeps insisting that the problem with HF is in the minds of the
>> readers who don't know how to read it, rather than also in its text and in
>> our culture, the days of Twain's place in the curriculum are numbered.  To
>> me, HF is about the best occasion we have to have the discussion about
>> slavery and racism that we always keep deferring as a culture, and the high
>> school or college classroom is the best place to have that discussion.  But
>> as a discussion, the conversation has to acknowledge what is admonitory as
>> well as what is exemplary, where HF should appall us as well as where it
>> should delight and inspire us.  I'm sorry I wrote so much, but as you can
>> tell, all this means a lot to me.  I think it means a lot to our culture
>> too.  Thanks for listening, Steve Railton  (Emeritus Prof of English, Univ
>> of Virginia)
>> MT as Lecturer -<
>> "The Trouble Begins at 8:00" MT began his career as a platform entertainer
>> out West, after he'd achieved notoriety as a newspaper writer. When he
>> began speaking in the East, he worried about how to meet the expectations
>> of audiences who loved to listen to oratory, but whose tastes had been
>> formed by lyceum lectures.
>> ________________________________
>> From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of John R. Pascal <
>> [log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2021 1:07 PM
>> To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
>> Subject: Fwd: Regarding "the 'N' word" in Huck Finn
>> Last line, I meant to say, “I certainly don’t KNOW any of the political
>> and administrative . . .”
>> It’s Saturday, time to be outside!!
>>> Begin forwarded message:
>>> From: "John R. Pascal" <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Subject: Re: Regarding "the 'N' word" in Huck Finn
>>> Date: March 27, 2021 at 1:02:48 PM EDT
>>> To: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Hi Alan,
>>> I neither could nor would comment on any students outside of my own,
>> except to say that it is a shame from what you say that apparently they do
>> not at least try to exercise an open mind to just listen to as many facts
>> as possible and then make a better informed educated decision.  Teaching
>> difficult subjects is never easy, but the students do want the truth to be
>> presented, as you indeed know.
>>> As you are aware, every teacher and every classroom demographic is
>> different, so I can’t comment any more on this portion.
>>> I only know what works for me.
>>> In addition to the information I already gave, I also reference Dr.
>> Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s works, Lighting Out for the Territory Reflections
>> on Mark Twain and American Culture, and Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and
>> African American Voices.
>>> I do not know what you mean by “Seton Hall has a budget to do that.”
>> Critical Companion and Dr. Fishkin’s books are my personal property, along
>> with Dr. Fishkin’s works.  They are on my classroom desk and my students do
>> thumb through them.  Any research I do, like any teacher, is on my own time
>> without renumeration; I wouldn’t ask anyway.  It’s part of my expected
>> professional development.
>>> Also, we do use the Signet Classic paperback edition of Huckleberry Finn
>> and it contains three other major American works.  But I loan my students
>> my copies of the definitive edition of HF published from the Mark Twain
>> Project that I myself have paid for without asking for school
>> reimbursement.  The students can highlight in them and the definitive
>> edition’s explanatory notes, maps, and illustrations are appreciated by
>> them.
>>> I am sorry I don’t have any ready suggestions to launch a funding effort
>> or find additional grants for your Twain Live series.  Perhaps the alumni
>> of Trenton HS could be solicited for supporting the series for the sake of
>> the current students, but I certainly don’t any of the political and
>> administrative ramifications in this regard.
>>> John
>>>> On Mar 27, 2021, at 11:22 AM, Alan Kitty <[log in to unmask]
>> <mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:
>>>> John- When asked, Trenton HS students will agree with an assessment
>> that HF, and by extension MT, is racist. I know of no deep dive into
>> related material that could change that perception. I have even offered to
>> place Twain himself In the line of fire. But as a practical matter Seton
>> Hall has a budget to do that. Urban public schools do not.
>>>> We lack staff to launch a funding effort or find additional grants for
>> our Twain Live series.
>>>> Suggestions?
>>>> Alan Kitty
>>>> Mark Twain Education Society
>>>> Don’t ask ‘for whom the bell tolls’. It’s your email and no one else
>> cares.
>>>> Sent from my iPhone
>>>>> On Mar 27, 2021, at 11:04 AM, John R. Pascal <[log in to unmask]
>> <mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:
>>>>> Hi Mr. Shannon,
>>>>> I can only offer my own classroom experience in teaching Huckleberry
>> Finn in the last fourteen years to high school juniors.
>>>>> I take effective time with them to review Dr. R. Kent Rasmussen’s
>> entries in his Critical Companion as to the N-word, slavery, African
>> Americans, pertinent portions of Twain’s life showing his changing views on
>> slavery, the history of the work’s reception by the public (they laugh at
>> Concord Public Library’s reaction and cheer at Twain’s reaction to it), and
>> his helping to pay for the Yale University Law School education of Walter
>> T. McGuinn.  In short, showing that Twain and his opus are not racist.
>>>>> If you haven’t already done so, may I suggest you read his entries
>> that are excellently comprehensive and enlightening.
>>>>> I also offer that some musical rap artists use the word in their
>> works, and apparently there is little outcry in contrast to that of
>> Huckleberry Finn. I suggest that this is the price of free speech in our
>> society.
>>>>> Additionally, I put forth that the oral reading and discussion of the
>> word is strictly in an academic context.  Nothing more.
>>>>> I ask that they only think and reflect on all I have shown them,
>> particularly when they know that all this information is certainly not
>> generally known in most, if any, high schools in our country.  This is
>> giving them the very much needed “big picture."
>>>>> Finally I state that if anyone has any problem with the word for any
>> or even no reason, just to tell me privately and without question it won’t
>> be used.
>>>>> As a result, I am fortunate to say that they are fine with reading and
>> discussing Huckleberry Finn as it is, and when a student just says “N-word”
>> when reading the dialogue, I do not correct him at all.  In a classroom in
>> which respect is paramount for each student, no one gives a taunting remark.
>>>>> If any teacher can’t teach the work because of this word, then I would
>> urge them to certainly use the NewSouth publication that changes the word
>> to “slave."
>>>>> Lastly, they are shocked and appalled that Huckleberry Finn has been
>> banned in some school districts.  In fact, I warn them that they at best
>> attend local public Board of Education Meetings.  It is likely that their
>> own younger siblings and one day their own children will come home and be
>> told they can’t read a book in school because a small number of parents
>> complained.  The Board easily avoids a lawsuit by simply changing the book
>> selection, and then the majority of parents find out after it is too late.
>>>>> You could go to the American Library Association’s website of banned
>> books.  The titles and reasons might shock you as well.
>>>>> Respectfully,
>>>>> John Pascal
>>>>> Seton Hall Preparatory School
>>>>> West Orange, NJ
>>>>>> On Mar 27, 2021, at 8:39 AM, Clay Shannon <[log in to unmask]
>> <mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:
>>>>>> I have vacillated a little over the years regarding what I thought
>> about "the 'N' word" being used in Twain's magnum opus, Adventures of
>> Huckleberry Finn.
>>>>>> For the most part, I have been for remaining true to the original
>> (rather than replacing it with the word "slave" or something else), and
>> educating people about why the word was used by Twain in that book, and how
>> common it was then, etc.
>>>>>> In the same way, I don't like it when historical movies/tv shows have
>> people using "the 'F' word" and other anachronisms when that word was
>> rarely, if ever, used in the time and place being depicted. The "excuse"
>> the apologists of such usage give is that if they were to be completely
>> precise as to how people spoke back then, their vitriol would not be
>> conveyed, but rather sound like something grandma might say when she
>> dropped her thimble. I think for the most part it's preferable to either
>> give the audience the benefit of the doubt or educate them, so that they
>> understand the import and impact of what is being said, even if it sounds
>> quaint or even comical to some today.
>>>>>> However, something occurred yesterday that gave me pause regarding
>> "the 'N' word" in Huck Finn:
>>>>>> I have a very good friend who is "black." We have been discussing
>> literature (via the mail) a litt/e lately. He recently read "Huck Finn" (he
>> liked it a lot). After a little back and forth about it, this is what he
>> had to say in yesterday's letter:
>>>>>> ///As for Mark Twain, I agree. He DOES NOT promote slavery. I think
>> people have more of an issue with the "n" word. I'm all for historical
>> accuracy in literature and in fiction but the issue is, should it be read
>> in schools?
>>>>>> If I was the only black kid in a white classroom could you imagine
>> the embarrassment I'd feel if we read the "n" word over and over and over
>> again? Or worse, what they would call me at recess?///
>>>>>> That was an epiphany for me. Perhaps this is a case where "the
>> perfect is the enemy of the good," as there are probably two possibilities
>> for Huck Finn being available in the classroom henceforth:
>>>>>> 1) The "N" word is replaced with something else, maybe "slave" or
>> "negro" (perhaps with an explanation in the foreword and/or verbally by the
>> teacher at the start of the class reading it as to why "the 'N' word" was
>> used in the original, and why it is being replaced)2) It's not available at
>> all
>>>>>> Perhaps replacing the problematic word may, after all, be more in the
>> spirit of what Twain wrote. In this instance, although it would not be a
>> completely precise version of the book (if "the 'N' word" were expurgated),
>> it would be the kind thing to do, considering how it might affect some of
>> the hearers/readers.
>>>>>> - B. Clay Shannon