January 14th, 2011 / 1:18 pm

Ishmael Reed on the Mark Twain Controversy

Instead of doing a gotcha search on Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” I recommend that its critics read it. They will find that Twain’s Jim has more depth than the parade of black male characters that one finds in recent movies, theater and literature, who are little more than lethal props. Jim is self sufficient, capable of fending for himself amidst dire circumstances, cares about his family, is religious and has goals. He is one of the few characters in the book with any kind of integrity.

In a time when blacks were considered by some to be little more than brutes, Twain has blacks communicating with one another through complicated codes while the whites commit such violence against the slaves and each other that the feuding between two families is such that only a few male members remain. Twain uses the same aggressive satire to expose the hypocrisy of the slave owners.

The fact that a critic has taken to tampering with Twain’s great work is another sign that the atavistic philistinism that has taken hold of our politics and culture has found a place in academia.

Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal (which has suddenly become a friend of literature in the last two years. Who would have thought the Wall Street Journal would be running pieces by Ishmael Reed? It’s a thing worth celebrating.)


  1. chet

      wsj is trying to pick up nyt’s slack. $$$$, but a new outlet for real words isn’t bad.

  2. c2k

      Exactly. NYC coverage also a bonus.

  3. Whatisinevidence

      The WSJ book review section is awesome.

  4. Trdrd


  5. RH

      Jigga Jim?

  6. deadgod

      [not a reply to NLY; can’t get the “new comment” box to scroll down to script past the lower margin of the box (???)]

      The American Library Association lists Huck Finn as the 5th most “banned/challenged” book from ’90 to ’99 in the libraries it monitors. From ’00 to ’09, it dropped all the way to only 14th.

      Here are a couple of the ‘atavistic philistines’ who’ve taken hold of American politics and culture and found their places in academia: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/149979_huck26.html .

      Because of the sensitivities of non-post-identity people like Ms. Clark, the professor who scrubbed “nigger” from Huck Finn acted as he’s done – so that Ms. Clark wouldn’t take a discussion of the book (including, perhaps, the offending word) completely away from Renton High’s English classes.

      That’s the context for the ever-repellently-sanctimonious Reed’s valuable ‘recommendation’ to Ms. Clark and her granddaughter.

  7. Man Martin

      They’re editing Dostoevsky’s THE IDIOT to avoid offending the intellectually challenged. It will just be called THE.

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