Tag Archives: Huckleberry Finn

My “Last Lecture”

I share here my “last lecture” from my retirement ceremony. (But rest assured: I will not be retiring from this blog.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beware of Literature’s Purity Police

Laura Moriarty’s “American Heart” has been attacked for being a white savior narrative. Such stories should in fact be critiqued, but the attackers are often a bigger problem.

Posted in Moriarty (Laura) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cradle Yet Shall Save the Earth

Mark Twain has fun in “Huckleberry Finn” with today’s New Testament reading, which is about Moses being discovered in “the bushrushers.” Victor Hugo also has a charming poem about the incident.

Posted in Hugo (Victor) | Also tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Trump Is Changing the Discourse

Adam Gopnik of “New Yorker” and Andrew Sullivan of “New York” are very, very frightened by the rise of Trump. As they explain why, they quote Tom Stoppard, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Plato.

Posted in Lewis (Sinclair), Stoppard (Tom), Tolkien (J.R.R.), Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Cruz as Beowulf? Try Grendel

Thursday Normally I would be delighted with a New York Times article that matched up presidential candidates with works of literature, such as Ted Cruz with Beowulf, Hillary Clinton with Persuasion, and Bernie Sanders with Around the World in 80 Days. This piece, however, strikes me as so uninformative that it’s all but useless. I’ve tried […]

Posted in Austen (Jane), Beowulf Poet, Dickens (Charles), Hardy (Thomas), Twain (Mark), Verne (Jules) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump as the Duke of Bilgewater

Although a couple of recent articles have compared Donald Trump to Pap in “Huckleberry Finn,” I find him to be much more akin to the Duke and the Dauphin. Which is to say, an ace con artist.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Complex Inner Life of Teachers

Lily King’s “The English Teacher” is filled with literary lllusions, most of them thematically important.

Posted in Beowulf Poet, Eliot (T.S.), Faulkner (William), Hardy (Thomas), Homer, Joyce (James), King (Lily), Poe (Edgar Allan), Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Superstition & Power Relations

To honor Friday’s 13th, here’s how Mark Twain handles superstition in “Huck Finn.”

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , | 3 Comments

#CancelColbert, #CancelMarkTwain

Carl Rosin, a high school teacher I admire tremendously, shares below how he will be using a recent public dust-up about a Stephen Colbert tweet to help his students understand the power and danger of satire, especially as it applies to Huckleberry Finn. I love the tweet that Carl imagines could have emerged out of Huck […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Parent-Child Classics (Positive)

A top ten list of classics with positive depictions of parent-child relationships.

Posted in Dickens (Charles), Eliot (George), Hughes (Langston), Lee (Harper), Stowe (Harriet Beecher) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Duck Dynasty Patriarch as Pap Finn

Patriarch Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” shares certain characteristics with Pap Finn.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , | 6 Comments

GOP Whites Splitting? Huck Finn Says No

If “Huck Finn” has predictive value, the class tensions within today’s GOP will be papered over by racism.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aristotle Wrong about Tragic Heroes

Revealing his prejudices, Aristotle tries to limit those whose suffering can be labeled tragic.

Posted in Aristotle, Baldwin (James), Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summertime and the Living Is Easy

An afternoon spent in a friend’s boat brought to mind Huck and Jim watching the Mississippi River.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Head for the Territories, a U.S. Fantasy

When politics become harsh, we still dream, like Huck, of lighting out for the Territory.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Myth of Slaves as Faithful Companions

A visiting lecture on “Slaves as Loyal Confederates” reminded me of the complex relationships between black and white as they are explored by Twain and Stowe.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

America Encourages the Vagabond Self

Looking at the United States from the vantage point of Iran, Nafisi writes that it was America’s vagrant nature that she connected to. She writes that America “somehow encourages this vagabond self.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

How Life Looks When One Is Property

Last week we had another fine presentation in the series of Twain lectures that my colleague Ben Click has been running. Once again a talk about race and Huckleberry Finn deepened my respect for that magnificent book. Here are some of the ideas I picked up, which I share with you from memory since I didn’t […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , | 6 Comments

Damn the N-Word, Full Speed Ahead

  Writing about interracial friendships in yesterday’s post brings to mind the most famous interracial friendship in literature, that between Huck and Jim. The novel is once again in the news (is it ever out of it?) with a new edition of the novel where the n-word is changed to “slave.” The edition is the brainchild […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

Huck Finn’s Censorship History

I have always been fascinated by the many ways that literature influences our lives, but, as a literary scholar, I also know that influence is a very hard thing to prove. That’s why I find censorship to be interesting. When people censor a book, they do so because they assume that it can have an […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , | Comments closed

Twain Was No Racist (Not Even Close)

“I hope that like Mark Twain, 100 years from now people will see my work and think, ‘Wow. That is actually pretty racist.’” –Tina Fey accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Thanks to a visiting lecturer in our Mark Twain series, I have a new understanding of Huckleberry Finn that is exciting me […]

Posted in Conrad (Joseph), Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Defending Miss Watson

Many readers of Huckleberry Finn enjoy laughing at Miss Watson’s approach to teaching Huck. She tries to use the Bible to scare him into good behavior, insists that he sit still, and prohibits him from smoking and drinking. Romantics that we are, we make fun of her educational philosophy and find her a hypocrite, especially […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

The Damned Human Race

Last Wednesday was the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.  To mark the occasion, Ben Click, our enterprising department chair, set up a panel to discuss what Twain had to say about  “race, religion, politics, and the ‘damned human race.’”   On the panel were Peter Sagal, star of National Public Radio’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Also tagged , , | Comments closed

Empowering Conversations about Race

As I look back over this past week of entries, what conclusions can I draw? First, that literature can serve the cause of race relations in this country. The friendship between Huck and Jim spurred my dreams of black-white friendship when I was a child being raised in segregated schools in the south, and it […]

Posted in Morrison (Toni), Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

When I Defended Song of Solomon

I think it was 13 years ago or so when I read in our county newspaper that a high school student was objecting to a book he had been assigned to read in an Advanced Placement English class. The book was Toni’s Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning Song of Solomon, a book on the Advanced Placement list, and […]

Posted in Morrison (Toni) | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Should Huck Finn Be Banned?

How much impact can images from a book like Huckleberry Finn have upon a reader? I’ve written about the importance of Huck’s courageous stand upon me as a young child, so I would answer, “ a tremendous impact.” But could there also be a negative impact? Could the docile and comic Jim undermine the self […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , | Comments closed

Can Huckleberry Finn Damage Readers?

Yesterday I mentioned that Huckleberry Finn has been banned in some schools, perhaps because of Huck’s liberal use of the “n” word. Now Twain, of course, doesn’t use that language because he himself is racist but because he wants to capture Huck’s “white trash” ignorance, which Huck then magnificently transcends. But the argument has gone […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Also tagged , | Comments closed

Huck and My Desegregation Battles

Here’s a personal story of how a literary classic came to my aid at a critical time in my life. When I was in sixth grade in Sewanee, Tennessee (the year was 1962), I was a plaintiff in a civil rights case. School systems all over the south were defying the Brown vs. Board of […]

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Also tagged , , | Comments closed


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete