The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is my personal all-time favorite book. It's the story of life on the river as only Twain could tell it, moving from idyllic descriptions of floating through the heart of America by raft, to the misadventures that go along with it, and all the murderers, thieves, confidence men, good people and hypocrites that make the tale the best American tale ever written, in my opinion.
It's also a book of controversy.
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Despite the opening note to the novel, the book does carry a social message, unlike Twain's earlier The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In addition to the obvious themes of slavery, race, class, and a satirical portrayal of Southern society, there are many subtle themes woven into the story as well. Family, for example, is embodied by Huck's absentee and drunken father, and the numerous families he encounters that try to adopt him.
Almost as controversial as the slavery theme is Huck's struggle to find a sense of morality in himself and the people he encounters. Throughout the story he matures into an indivual sense of right and wrong. When he is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to steal Jim out of slavery, and the moral implications of society in doing so, he famously says, "All right, then, I'll GO to hell". In writing Huckleberry Finn in this way, Twain created one of the most most unbiased, open-minded characters of popular literature.
The controversial themes did not fall on deaf ears. Soon after publication, the Concord, Massachusetts, library banned the book because of its "tawdry subject matter" and "the coarse, ignorant language in which it was narrated". However, the San Francisco Chronicle came quickly to its defense, stating:
Running all through the book is the sharpest satire on the ante-bellum estimate of the slave. Huckleberry Finn, the son of a worthless, drunken, poor white man, is troubled with many qualms of conscience because of the part he is taking in helping the negro to gain his freedom. This has been called exaggerated by some critics, but there is nothing truer in the book.
The controversy didn't end there. In fact, the book ranks fifth as the most frequently challenged (in the sense of attempting to ban) book in the United States according to the American Library Association. Attempts to "clean-up" the language in the book have always failed. CBS Television went so far as to produce a made-for-TV version of Huck Finn that included no black cast members, no mention of slavery, and without the critical character Jim. It tanked horribly.