Re: [ADS-L] The N-word at the tim e of Huck Finn

Barbara Need bhneed at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 13 15:41:13 UTC 2009


Thanx for this response. I recognize the difficulties inherent in
responding to a 19th century story with 20th or 21st century
sensibilities and it is helpful to have it articulated--and some of my
students did too!


Barbara Need

On 12 Mar 2009, at 10:25 AM, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:

> It seems to me that the question raised here is impossible to answer
> because=
> =20
> it is premised on a late-twentieth-century view of race that simply
> did not=20
> exist in 19th-century America. The prevailing LIBERAL attitude was
> patronizi=
> ng=20
> at best, and there was hardly a white person alive before 1950 who
> did not h=
> old=20
> views of African-Americans that would not be viewed as racist today.
> By=20
> contemporary standards, Lincoln was a racist.
> There were no terms for black people that were not intrinsically
> patronizing=
> =20
> at best. This is the attitude of Twain in HUCK FINN, though it is a=20
> benevolent, thoughtful attitude which does recognize Jim's intrinsic
> worth a=
> s a human=20
> being--a kind of romantic rustic who is able to think outside the
> box of=20
> prevailing wisdom precisely because he is an outsider. When Twain
> calls him=20=
> "Nigger=20
> Jim" he is simply using one of the commonplace terms used by all
> people, whi=
> te,=20
> black, enlightened, not enlightened. His respect for the Jims of
> this world=20
> is clear. Given the prevailing attitudes towards black people at the
> time--e=
> ven=20
> scientists--"nigger," "darky," etc. were just the terms that people
> used.=20
> There WERE no "racist" epithets, because the modern idea of racism
> had not e=
> ven=20
> been invented yet, nor could be until people began to see that the
> prevailin=
> g=20
> attitudes of the day towards race were wicked and evil--and until
> others=20
> resisted such new, enlightened attitudesl, which is what gives
> racial slurs=20=
> their=20
> real meaning.

Original question follows:

>>>> At 3/11/2009 09:40 PM, Barbara Need wrote:
>>>>> I am grading papers about racism in _Huck FInn_ and several
>>>>> students
>>>>> have said something implying that _nigger_ was offensive at either
>>>>> the
>>>>> time the book is set or the time Twain was writing (or both). I
>>>>> have
>>>>> not found anything very useful in the archives. Do we know how
>>>>> offensive the word was in the 19th century?

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