History of the Huckleberry Finn Manuscript: Racism, Violence and Social Criticism

Authored by Katelynn Langhans

Published in 1885, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Manuscript is located in the Mark Twain Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. This photograph shows the first page of the original manuscript written by Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn is considered an American Literary Treasure and part of Buffalo’s rich history.

In 1885, Samuel Clemens published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn under the pen name, Mark Twain. The original manuscript resides at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library where visitors are allowed to view it in the Mark Twain Room.

It is not exactly known when the manuscript was published, but in November of 1885, the manuscript arrived in Buffalo, NY. It was addressed to the Young Men’s Association which would eventually become the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. Sent from Hartford, Connecticut the package only contained “approximately half the manuscript (487 leaves) of the recently published and controversial novel” (BECPL, n.d.). The two halves wouldn’t be reunited again until more than a hundred years later. On July 28, 1992 the second half of the manuscript finally came home (BECPL, n.d.).

Written in Mark Twain’s handwriting, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, emphasizes racism, educational criticism and social roles in America during the 19th century.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is about a southern adolescent white boy who runs away with an adult black slave to help him escape and gain freedom. At the end of the novel, the reader learns that Jim, the black slave, has been free for most of the book. This highlights that Jim is not property, but he is a human being and should be treated as such.

It has received praise and criticism from many scholars and academia over the years. “From 1885 to the present moment, Huck Finn has been banned from the shelves of libraries and schools throughout the nation” (Sloane 1988, 4). Library members said the work of fiction was vulgar, rough and contained ignorant dialect (Vickers 2007, 22). The most controversial word in the book is “nigger” which at the time was common slang. Today, it is considered offensive by almost every reader.

Throughout the novel, violence towards African Americans is understated. While many turned a blind eye at this behavior during the 1800s, it has defined generations beyond the novel’s time. “Many older African American[s]… grew up with the message that they were less than human” (Trotman 2008, 125). Similar passages are depicted multiple times throughout the novel:

Good gracious! Anybody hurt?

No’m. Killed a nigger.

Well, it’s lucky because sometimes people do get hurt.

(Twain 1981, 213)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has depicted African Americans as uneducated, worthless and something to be bought and sold. They were property. This manuscript has helped define American History. It has thrived and grown as a teaching tool to discuss the violence and racism of America during the 1800s.

Because of this deception, African Americans have not been presented through the Vincentian Lens. “Meanings applied to objects through the assignments of words…grounded within a specific context of personal history and traditional practices from a specific time and culture” (Angel n.d., 5).

Even though African Americans were treated badly throughout the novel, Jim was liked by readers at the end of the book. It was not because he was black or white, it was based off of his character. This is what it means to present history through a Vincentian Lens. Mark Twain brought out the humanness in society. Even though it’s been banned across the nation, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is proud to be the home of this famous manuscript.

References

Angel, Christine M. n.d. “Information Representation through the Vincentian Lens of Transparency: Providing the Under and Misrepresented with a Voice within Our Cultural Heritage Records.” Evolution of Teaching Philosophy: 1–7. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VkY3xbRv1Ikuny5LApVmVWmSiZ81OTtUyJ6aSl_I3xo/.

BECPL. n.d. “Digitized Version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Accessed March 7, 2020. https://www.buffalolib.org/mark-twain-room/huck-finn-manuscript

Sloane, David E. E. 1988. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: American Comic Vision. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co.

Trotman, Frances K. 2008. “Historical, Economic, and Political Contexts of Aging in African American.” Journal of Women & Aging 14:3-4, 121-138 DOI: 10.1300/ J074v14n03_08

Twain, Mark. 1981. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Bantam Books.

Vickers, Rebecca. 2007. The Story Behind Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Chicago: Heinemann Library.

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