The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has provoked controversy and invited censorship over its one hundred year history. Where once its detractors criticized its themes of violence and rebellion and protested the moral laxity in the language and characters of the novel, in the twentieth century the controversy has evolved into an issue of race.
This study examines the history of the censorship controversy and reviews the twentieth century charges of racism. The contemporary debate on Huckleberry Finn centers around a literal interpretation of the text. Since Twain's treatment of race in the novel is presented through irony, it is crucial that the reader understands the author's ironic intent. An intensive evaluation of Twain, the racial issue, and his novel in light of the now accessible textual and biographical materials reveals his use of anti-racism motifs. Twain creates characters that are imprisoned by their social milieu. Huck, Jim, and the society as a whole are trapped within the confines of the existing slave system and the other entrapments of culture, most notably--language. Huckleberry Finn is a dialectic in that Twain uses the language against itself. Ironically, it is that very language that so upsets Black readers that the very essence of the true message of the novel is lost.
The multi-faceted nature of Twain's subject and his literary technique necessitates the reader's full awareness of Twain's use of irony, language, and point of view in Huckleberry Finn. The figure of Huck as a narrator is the revealing of a divided self, and his developing consciousness and innocence are linked with the social satire. Twain's use of language and point of view creates a double vision of race. Huck's intuitive self is juxtaposed to the conflicting internalized mores of the society, his acquired or "programmed" conscience. This duality represents the double consciousness that permeated nineteenth century America.
A textual analysis of Huckleberry Finn and Pudd'nhead Wilson indicates a consistency in Twain's treatment of race, and both of these works suggest that social fictions create unalterable realities. The power of social fictions and the fear of isolation and social ostracism are recurring themes which illuminate the problem of race and morality, thus revealing the complexity of the racial situation America.