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Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 20 Mar 2004 20:59:21 -0600
text/plain (61 lines)
To satisfy your curiosity, I can answer that with or without a capital N, my
reaction would have been different had you said "the nigger Jim" rather than
"nigger Jim." It's the "the" that makes the difference, and as others have
pointed out, the difference is huge. The context was HF. and not some other
work (where the word "the" appeared, I think). I cannot speak for Shelley.

As for the claim that Twain was not a racist, that depends on how you define
the word, and it is a complex question (and answer). Twain used the word
"nigger" in his private correspondence during the last ten years of his life
(1906, I think?), and he was certainly a racist well into the 1860s, and
even in his later years he once described himself as the "laziest white man
that he knew" (or a phrase very close to this). I think Twain was
paternalistic to the end of his life, but certainly as free of racism as the
most progessive thinkers of his day. But to think of him as non-racist in
the same way you might define such a person living today is a mistake. The
things I am saying are misunderstood by many (they think I'm calling Twain a
racist) and upsetting to many others (they think of Twain as a pure and
unfettered spirit on the matter of race), but Lou Budd published an
excellent essay on this very subject. I would urge anyone confused or
angered by my brief posting here to read Budd's eloquent words.

I do wish I could provide a citation for Budd's illuminating article, cite
the specific letter I've mentioned, or reference the quote I cited above,
but I'm still in California away from my books, depending on my aging
memory, but full of great seafood.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730
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Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at
----- Original Message -----
From: "Fred Kaplan" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, March 20, 2004 6:35 AM
Subject: "the nigger Jim"

> Apparently this subject is the third rail of Twain discussions. That =
> anyone could think Twain a racist is beyond my comprehension, & his =
> evolution from his Hannibal childhood to his mature views on the subject =
> is worthy of the greatest admiration. On the one hand, I think Barb is =
> right in thinking that my close conjunction of the reference to =
> Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  & my reference to "nigger Jim" has =
> mislead some readers into the conclusion that I intended to claim that =
> the phrase appears in HF. On the other, Kevin and Shelley stated that =
> Twain never (an open-ended anyplace) used the phrase that I quoted. I =
> wonder if their responses would have been different if I had used the =
> full phrase "the nigger Jim" rather than "nigger Jim." In neither =
> instance is there a capital "N." My thanks to those who have responded =
> to my original statement & query. Even at my age it's still possible to =
> get an education. These lessons are sometimes puzzling but always =
> valuable.
> Fred