African American News and Genealogy

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

BOOK REVIEW: 'My Jim' is a moving tale spun from 'Huckleberry Finn'

By RON CHARLES, The Christian Science Monitor Last Updated: January 19, 2005, 09:41:27 AM PST (CSM) - "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" started offending people even before it was released. At the printer, somebody noticed that in one illustration, Silas Phelps is exposing himself to Huck. That near disaster was expensively corrected, but all the cutting and pasting weren't enough to save the novel from condemnation. The Concord Library in Massachusetts immediately banned it, and it's been banned in some places - often in many places - ever since. The original objections to this "veriest trash" focused on Huck's naughty behavior and speech: He lies, he steals, he says "sweat" instead of "perspiration." But the debate shifted to more substantive ground in 1954 when the NAACP objected to the novel's racial slurs and demeaning stereotypes. A number of thoughtful black critics and parents have elaborated on that charge over the years. In 1996, the arguments flared up again when Jane Smiley wrote an essay in Harper's complaining about the racist elements of "Huck Finn" and the way it's presented in schools. At the time, I happened to be teaching "Huck Finn" at Smiley's old high school, so I read her essay with considerable interest (but no personal offense - I joined the faculty many years after she had graduated.) "My Jim," by Nancy Rawles, a black writer in Seattle, should stir the embers of this critical debate yet again. Her new novel stems from a crucial passage in Twain's masterpiece when Jim says he plans to buy or steal his family from slavery. For Huck, such shocking talk leads to a moral revelation about the value of his friend; for Rawles, it led to her own moving story about Jim's wife. Full Review:


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