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Black Humanity in Huckleberry Finn

Black Humanity in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Lauded by literary critics, writers and the general reading public, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn commands one of the highest positions in the canon of American literature. On an international level, it is “a fixture among the classics of world literature” (Kaplan 352). It “is a staple from junior high . . . to graduate school” and “is second only to Shakespeare in the frequency with which it appears in the classroom . . . ” (Carey-Webb 22). During the push for school desegregation in the 1950s, however, many parents raised serious objections to the teaching of this text. These objections centered around Twain’s negative characterization of Jim and his extensive use of the term “nigger” throughout the text. Many people felt this characterization, along with the most powerful racial epithet in the English language, were insensitive to African Americn heritage and personally offensive in racially mixed classrooms.

Twain’s stereotypical depiction of Jim originates from traditions of his time: “Writing at a time when the blackfaced minstrel was still popular, and shortly after a war which left even the abolitionists weary of those problems associated with the Negro, Twain fitted Jim into the outlines of the minstrel tradition . . . ” (Ellison 421-22). Minstrel shows, first appearing in the 1840s, were theatrical productions typically performed by white actors who blackened their faces with greasepaint and wore white gloves “to render comic burlesques of African American speech and manners” (Carey-Webb 24). The function of the minstrel mask, the “black-faced figure of white fun,” was “to veil the humanity of Negroes thus reduced to a si…

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…P, 1993.

Hoffman, Daniel. “Black Magic–and White–in Huckleberry Finn.” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Sources Criticism. Ed. Sculley Bradley, et al. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1977. 423-436.

Jones, Rhett S. “Nigger and Knowledge. White Double-Consciousness in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Satire or Evasion? Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Ed. James Leonard, et al. Durham: Duke UP, 1992. 173-194.

Kaplan, Justin. “Born to Trouble: One Hundred Years of Huckleberry Finn.” Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Eds. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: St. Martin’s, 1995. 348-359.

MacLeod, Christine. “Telling the Truth in a Tight Place: Huckleberry Finn and the Reconstruction Era.” The Southern Quarterly 34 (Fall 1995): 5-16.

The Yellow Wallpaper as an Attack on Radical Feminism

The Yellow Wallpaper as an Attack on Radical Feminism

“The Yellow Wallpaper” explores mental illness and, through this exploration, presents a critique of the place of women in a patriarchal society. Interestingly, Charlotte Perkins Gilman never intended the latter. The primary intent of her short story is to criticize of a physician prescribed treatment called rest cure. The treatment, which she underwent, required female patients to “’live as domestic a life as possible’” (Gilman). This oppressive treatment, however, parallels the oppression of women. As such, “The Yellow Wallpaper” has been interpreted as a feminist work. In the story, Gilman comments on the status of women, the nature and source of their confinement and the possible modes of escape.

Afflicted by hysteria and “nervous depression,” the narrator in this story, symbolic of all women, is confined. The condition of the narrator is such that she is “absolutely forbidden to ‘work’” and unable to “relieve the press of ideas” through creative endeavours. The narrator makes continued reference to immovable objects and thereby, creates a sense of confinement. “Hedges and walls and gates that lock” seem to enclose the colonial mansion and hereditary estate. The garden is “full of box-bordered paths.” Everything is structured, rigid and restrictive. The windows of the nursery are barred. The narrator sleeps on a “great immoveable bed” which “is nailed down.” Yet, the nursery is a paradox of images; the images of confinement are contrasted with descriptions of the nursery. The nursery is “a big, airy room” that has “windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore.” and was, at one time, a “playroom and gymnasium.” The use of contrasting image…

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…front her confinement the wrong way. It is through these events in the story that Gilman does seem to be criticizing women for seeking their freedom at the expense of men. Gilman, while attacking the repression and oppression of women, seems also to attack radical feminism by pointing out that contempt for the opposite sex does nothing to further the feminist cause. Feminists, therefore, should be examples of proper conduct. They should continue to strive for equality but in a manner, that does not alienate men and other women.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Harbrace Anthology of Literature. Eds. Jon Stott, Raymond E. Jones, Rick Bowers. 2nd ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1998.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I wrote the Yellow Wallpaper” [reprinted article]. URL:

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