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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Robert Champ <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 20 May 1994 23:42:19 EDT
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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I would like to say a few words that I hope will clear up some of the
misunderstandings that might have resulted from my last post.

1) In the classroom I don't dismiss the concerns of people who are
offended by Twain's use of the word "nigger" and Huck's apparently
behavior toward Jim in the escape scene.  Indeed, I try to show that Twain,
from being a racist, was an enlightened man on racial issues and that his
portrayal of Huck required the use of language that I admit is personally
offensive to me.  The fact is that, just as Huck is more eloquent than he
he is also more moral.  He is, however, a being of his time and place, and
one--especially not a determinist like Twain--can hold him responsible for
rising wholly above his "training." I sometimes point out that, if anyone
a right to be
angry at Twain for jibes at a particular group, it is people of French
(of which I am one), for Twain is never more scathing than in his remarks
on French culture.  Read, for instance, the essays he wrote on the
appearance of Paul Bourget's hostile look at America in _Outre Mer_.

2) My concern is chiefly with those who seek to ban a great book from
and take it out of the hands of readers.  The banning of books used to be an
activity associated with the political right; now the political left has
weighed in with an attitude no less scary.  If my commments in the last post
seem at times strident, it is because Twain's detractors in this matter
appear to have far more interest in a political agenda than in literature.

3) This is why I introduced Hawthorne.  I would never try to excuse one
racism by pointing to someone else's.  My point was simply to point out the
curiously selective nature of scholars who are willing to accuse one man of
a social malady who has, in fact, shown few signs of it, while passing over
another man far more deeply infected.  The fact is that both Twain and
Hawthorne were writers of the first order; if they had racists tendencies,
are to be greatly regretted.  But to dismiss their literature because of
sad fact is a poor way to introduce students to the great heritage of
literature.  I used to hear about Russian and Chinese students who went to
texts to discover something of their history only to discover that the names
and photos of many important figures had been cut out.  I don't want to see
similar gutting of our history and literature.

3) It is true that to the uneducated eye Tom and Huck do seem to be having
fun at Jim's expense.  But this doesn't necessarily mean that Twain
To the uneducated eye, Swift seems to be advocating cannibalism in "A Modest
Proposal"; but Swift's purpose in the end was moral and constituted a
withering attack on the oppressive political system operating in Ireland.
is, like Swift, a satirist, and his satire has an edge that can be lost on
uneducated eye.  The purpose of a classroom, however, is to make sure that
students learn to see with an _educated_ eye and that they don't leave a
believing that Swift was a monster or that Twain was a bigot.

4) I had no intention of defending Twain.  He hardly needs an apologist.  I
do, however, affirm Twain's artistic integrity.  I stand with him.
not everything that he says strikes me as true; and in fact, I find him
at times wrongheaded in the extreme.  But he was a man who sought the truth,
and he left us a record of that search in writings that are second to none
in our

I reckon if Twain were looking over my shoulder right now, he would probably
take exception to the highhandedness of that last section.  He always said
that he wrote for ordinary people and not the _literati_.  I hope that
people continue to read him--that they get the chance to read him.  And that
all I really intended by my remarks in the last post.

Robert Champ