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Huck Finn: A Critical Exploration



1. Huck Finn Controversy:

Note on Topic #1: What does it mean for a book to be banned or challenged? According to the American Library Association, "A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials." This can happen in a public library, school library, school district (like removing a book from English classes), etc. A book is also sometimes altered by publishers in response to challenges, with passages and words changed or taken out. Huck Finn has been one of the most frequently banned, challenged, and censored books in American literature since its publication in 1884, and people are still debating whether or not the novel is racist or offensive. Use the resources below to find information on why Huckleberry Finn has been the subject of so much controversy. 


Karolides, Nicholas J., Margaret Bald, and Dawn B. Sova. 120 Banned Books. New York: Checkmark Books, 2011. Print. 

This book is available in the Irvington HS library and gives a great overview of all the times and reasons Huck Finn has been challenged and banned, from the first time in 1885 when the Concord Public Library called it "trash suitable only for the slums" to 2011, when a new edition was published that changes every use of the n-word to "slave." See pages 443-447!


History of reactions to Huck Finn (KQED)

A TIME magazine article about the history of censorship of books, the first page is about Huck Finn

Huck Finn's History of Censorship

This page has the transcript of a talk made by a St. Mary's College of Maryland professor about the history of censorship of Huck Finn.

Huck and the Concord Library

This page deals with the first time the book was banned, one year after its release (1885) by the Concord (Massachusetts) Public Library.

News article about the edition of Huck Finn released in 2011 that substitutes the word "slave" for the n-word

Another article about the 2011 edition

Video: A reporter talks with the publisher of the 2011 edition (very short--watch it with the next clip, below)

Video: A professor talks about the power of the "n-word"

News article about a challenge to Huck Finn in 2004 in Renton, WA

More about the Renton case

Cherry Hill: How one school district decided to teach Huck differently (1995)

Imaging Slavery in Mark Twain's books


Re-Presenting Jim:

This University of Virginia professor has collected illustrations of Jim from different editions of the novel 1885-1985--how is Jim depicted? As a slave? A person? A stereotype? Very interesting!:


Chicago Tribune article

2. African-American History

Note on Topic #2: Huck Finn takes place a couple decades before slavery ends (1830s-1840s), but it was published in 1884, after slavery was over (the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863, but only in those states controlled by the Union, because the war was still happening. All slaves were freed at the end of the war in 1865). This means at the time of publication, Twain was writing about big events in the history of his country that were about 20 years old--during the lifetime of adult readers. The links below cover the entire time period of slavery as well as the Civil War and Reconstruction (post-slavery period).


PBS: Africans in America Part 1, early history of slavery

Click on the links at the bottom of the page, like "The African Slave Trade and the Middle Passage." 

PBS: Africans in America Part 2, what was happening with African-Americans during the Revolutionary War

PBS: Africans in America Part 3, pre-Civil War

This section is called "Brotherly Love" because it deals with how free Blacks were building communities in the North while slavery was still continuing in the South. Click on "Philadelphia" (this city is nicknamed the "city of brotherly love") to see an example of this.

PBS: Africans in America Part 4, Civil War

This section deals with how Americans began to debate slavery more and more as the country expanded West. Would the new states be slave states or free states? It also deals with the war itself.

Slavery in the U.S.: A Brief History

This is a page about slavery from a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Civil War battlefield sites 

Slavery in America (History Channel)

Slavery and the Making of America (PBS)

Slave Narratives

This is a website made by a graduate student at the University of Virginia. It contains many of the original interviews of former slaves done by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

African-American Soldiers in the Civil War

This photo tour from Time Magazine focuses on African-American soldiers in the Civil War using primary source photographs. Click "Enter" to begin. Read all the captions! 

American Memory

This giant project from the Library of Congress collects primary sources in many forms (text, photos, videos, art, etc) about all subjects of American History. This is their African-American history page. Lots of primary sources. 

LOC Black History Month

This Library of Congress site covers many different topics within African American History

Reconstruction Era (after the Civil War)--this site focuses on African-Americans during Reconstruction

Reconstruction Era (after the Civil War)



Lots of links to click on in this site

Jim Crow Laws

Slavery was over, but states responded by passing "Jim Crow" laws, laws which segregated African-Americans and kept them from gaining education and political power. 

Jim Crow Laws--Smithsonian, Washington D.C.

3. Mark Twain in his Times: 

From University of Virginia 

Mark Twain House (museum based on Mark Twain's life)--Biography page


Mark Twain Bio

This website is run by the estate of the author

This site also has a video you can watch 


Mark Twain Life Timeline


PBS: The American Experience

This page focuses on something you might not have known about Twain, that he published a really popular biography of President Grant. 


Biography in Context

If you have a public library card number, you can log into this huge biography database and find tons of information on Mark Twain! 


4. Huck Finn Critical Reception: 


From University of Virginia

From University of Virginia 


From University of Toronto

This English professor at the University of Toronto has collected some reviews about Mark Twain's work from 1885 (the year after Huck was published) to 1896).


History of reactions to Huck Finn (KQED)

Other writers, including Hemingway, talk about Huck Finn

How was Huck Finn publicized?