The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often considered one of the greatest American novels ever written. Hemingway once said, ”All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ . . . It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” It’s on the 100 Essential Novels scratch-off poster from Pop Chart Lab that I’m working my way through. I read Tom Sawyer decades ago, but never got around to Twain’s spin-off book on Huck.
It’s an enjoyable read that will have you laughing out loud and nodding at Jim’s down home wisdom and heroism. Sadly, it’s also one of the most banned books in American history for portraying a way of life that isn’t acceptable and many Americans wish to disown. And yet I know these people, these rich characters from over 100 years ago that still thrive in rural small towns, in backwoods and parts of the South. I fall back into my West Virginia twang as I read Huck’s story told in his own brilliant vernacular, I see my beloved Mississippi River and I feel the racial tension of my Illinois high school years. Even if you didn’t have that in your past, the world Mark Twain perfectly relates would come vividly to life and you might begin to believe you did. You might recall riding a raft down that big, old, lazy river, fishing for your supper, taste homemade biscuits that melt in your mouth, or hear the fire and brimstone preacher doom you to hell for doing what in your heart you know is right no matter what the law or society says. Huck will make you believe that contrary to popular belief, we are more good than bad, more wise than foolish, more inclined to love than hate.
You can miss the brilliance of Twain’s Huck Finn and ban it for its use of “bad” words, “bad” grammar and portrayal of slaves and slavery and a slice of American life that isn’t so dreamy. But don’t. Banning the book doesn’t erase that part of our history. Banning the book only contributes to ignorance and dooms us to repeat it.