To teach or not to teach? This is the question that is presently on many administrators' minds about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. For those who read the book without grasping the important concepts that Mark Twain gets across "in between the lines", many problems arise. A reader may come away with the impression that the novel is simply a negative view of the African-American race. Many scholars and educators, like Marylee Hengsetbeck who said, "If Huck Finn is used solely as a part of a unit on slavery or racism, we sell the book short." (Hengstebeck 32) feel that there is much to be learned about Blacks from this book and it should not be banned from the classroom. This is only one of many themes and expressions that Mark Twain is describing in his work. Another central theme is how the depiction of race relations and slavery is used as insight into the nature of blacks and whites as people in general. Overall, the most important thing to understand is that Mark Twain is illustrating his valuable ideas subtly and not pushing them upon the reader directly.
Primarily, Huck Finn teaches readers two important lessons about the true nature of people. Throughout the book, one of these main lessons is that Blacks can be just as caring as whites. The white characters often view the blacks as property rather than as individuals with feelings and aspirations of their own. Huck comes to realize that Jim is much more than a simple slave when he discusses a painful experience with his daughter. Jim describes how he once called her and she did not respond. He then takes this as a sign of disobedience and beats her for it. Soon realizing that she is indeed deaf, he comforts her and tries to make up for the act of beating. The feeling that Jim displays shows Huck that Jim has a very human reaction and the fact Jim says, "Oh Huck, I bust out crying....'Oh the po' little thing!" (Twain 151), only further proves to Huck that Jim is as caring as he is. Huck's realization allows him to see that Jim is no longer the ordinary slave. The point where Huck completely changes his attitudes towards blacks comes when he is faced with the dilemma of turning in Jim. Huck fights with his conscience and also reflects on the things that Jim has done for him. "I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such likes the times: and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was..." (Twain) These two key scenes are among many that illustrate the idea that Blacks can be as caring and emotional as Whites - one of the main lessons of the book.
The second main lesson that the book teaches is that the world is full of hypocrites. Huck realizes that through his experiences with Jim that he and Blacks like him are not what he has been told. People like Miss Watson, who represent the established belief system of Huck's society, tells him that blacks were nothing but property and should be treated as such. Huck now knowing that this is not the case sees that people, like Miss Watson, made up these laws to suit themselves. Furthermore, Huck sees that Miss Watson would often make up a regulation for him but not abide by it herself. An example of this concerns the subject of snuff. "And she took snuff too; of course that was alright, because she done it herself." (Twain ) Huck noticed this double standard even more now because he began to see that not everything Miss Watson told him was true. With this, Huck not only sees Jim in a new light, but begins to see that the people who supposedly know everything, didn't really know anything. Again other critiques of the novel state that as a whole the book is