The N-Word. The Usage of a Controversial Term in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Nowadays

Term Paper, 2009

13 Pages, Grade: 3,0

A. Glatz (Author)


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Usage of the N-Word in Huck Finn
2.1 Former Usage of the N-Word and that in Huck Finn
2.2 Twains Motives for Using Nigger

3 Usage of the N-Word in Recent Times

4 Conclusion

5 List of References

1 Introduction

‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn …the best book I’ve had.’[1], claimed Ernest Hemingway, although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered as one of the most banned books in the US. In this introduction I am going to give you an overview about the historical context in which the book was written and why it developed to such a controversial novel.

Mark Twain was born 1835 as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, a small village in Missouri, which was a slave-holding society at that time. He grew up in Hannibal, where he was also confronted with the mistreating of slaves. In 1876, he started to write Huck Finn, which was then published in 1884 in England and one year later in the USA.

Slavery had been legal in the USA from 1654 to 1865. The Negro Act of 1740 made it illegal for Afro American to meet in groups, gain money, go to school, and grow food. To make it short, they had no single human right left. Even though it was allowed to hold a slave, it was not accepted everywhere, especially in the northern states. When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 and wanted to abolish slavery, eleven southern states left the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, because they needed slaves for their cotton industry. The establishment of the Confederate States was the beginning of the Civil War, which ended in 1865 when the southern states were defeated. In the same year, slavery was abolished.

Having a look at the dates mentioned above, it is easy to see that Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn in a time in which there had already been put an end to slavery. Nonetheless, it is important to know that Huck Finn takes place before the abolition.

After the first publication of Huck Finn in the USA by Twain’s own publishing house, the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts banned it with the following explanation:

It deals with a series of a very low grade of morality; it is couched in the language of a rough dialect, and all through its pages there is systematic use of bad grammar and an employment of […] inelegant speech.[2]

Since then, the book has been banned from several other libraries and even in recent years from syllabuses of schools, which was mainly linked to the frequent use of the term nigger. It is a term which has represented an issue throughout history when it comes to its use. In the following pages, I would like to examine how to characterize the meaning and the usage of this controversial term. I am going to have a look at how Mark Twain employed it and why. In addition, I am going to compare what I found out about the usage in Huck Finn with the meaning and usage of the word nowadays.

2 Usage of the N-Word in Huck Finn

In the following section I will first examine how the N-Word was used in general in former times, then how Mark Twain used it in Huck Finn and finally why he employed it so often.

Before I begin I would like to say that I am going to use the word nigger a lot of times in this paper. I do not want to insult anybody, but I have to mention it sometimes as I write about the term. I also dissociate myself from some quotations you will read on the following pages, where the word is used in an offensive way.

2.1 Former Usage of the N-Word and that in Huck Finn

At the beginning, I would like to quote Thomas Jefferson, who claimed that ‘…their [the blacks’] existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection’[3]. At the time of “the Enlightenment”, a human being was characterized by reason. This was underlined by the philosopher Descartes who stated “cogito ergo sum”[4] (“I think therefore I am”). In the quote by Jefferson, the black community is considered as a people who does not think, but rather feels. It implies that blacks lack the most important feature of a human being, which is reason, and therefore cannot be considered as “human”. Before the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, this argument was a very common legitimation for slavery and for the use of nigger to refer to African Americans.

The term itself was, for instance, used to distinguish a white and a black person with the same first name. When you say “Nigger Jim” it is evident that you mean a black slave, and not the white Jim. In addition to that, blacks were never addressed by “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, but rather by their first name or by “Auntie” or “Uncle”.[5] Another interesting point is the fact that whites who supported blacks during the Civil Rights Movement were referred to as niggerlovers. In this example you can see that even whites were discriminated by simply having contact or feeling sympathy with African Americans.


[1] Foerstel 1994: 151.

[2] ibid., 150.

[3] Smith 1994: 90.

[4] Descartes 1997: 55.

[5] Kennedy 2003: 91.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The N-Word. The Usage of a Controversial Term in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Nowadays
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Anglistik)
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Huckleberry Finn, N-Word, African American, Nigger, Hip Hop
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A. Glatz (Author), 2009, The N-Word. The Usage of a Controversial Term in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Nowadays, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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