Warning: This entry is about my impersonation of a relatively racist Southerner for school. If you're offended by this kind of thing, please don't read.
A couple of weeks ago I had the assignment of arguing for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be required reading in schools...in 1885. What a spicy assignment! Given my passion for all things ridiculous, I immediately decided that I wanted to be an ignorant Southern racist who loved the book because he thought it favored black slavery. The book, after all, was interpreted that way by many upon release.
Soon my teacher decided that we could only argue from the perspective of genuine historical figures. This was a problem, but only for a moment. I decided to be a Louisiana congressman of the 49th Congressional Session, whom nobody would ever have heard of, but would still have information online I could hunt up. I disregarded the most interesting member of Louisiana's 49th congressional representation because he was a Republican, and that meant he probably favored the abolition of slavery. I then decided on Louis St. Martin as my subject, but halfway through my debate I picked Edward Gay instead, since he lived in various parts of the country during his lifetime and had been living in St. Louis when Huck Finn sailed past in 1840, which became part of my argument.
It was rather difficult to find information on Edward Gay on Google, since... y'know, Edward. Gay. I posted a Facebook status commenting dryly on this unfortunate situation, and Gaia posted on it, saying "hahahaha that's great." Made my night. :) We're almost back to "normal" sometimes! I love it!
I had to make a costume for the debate so that I would look a bit like Congressman Edward Gay. This is my outfit:
When it came time to giving our speeches, my friend, posing as President Grover Cleveland, went first. His speech sounded very liberal-minded and modern, a little off considering the 1885 setting, but it was totally fine otherwise. Then some other guy went, the opposition, I forget exactly who. Then it was my turn to give an argument. I started off a little weakly, but I had an excellent Southern accent, if I do say so myself, and aside from the first sentence or so I was solid and strong the whole way through. :)
Below you can read my argument, if you choose. It's certainly more interesting when read in a strong accent.
Now, I know many of you may be concerned about the lies of some Negro-lovers, who I hear have been arguing that Huckleberry Finn is anti-white supremacy, what with the main character, Huck, trying to steal a slave out of slavery and all. But look at the way the boy is raised! He’s been trying to survive since day one, and he steals everything without a qualm; as Jim and he decide that stealing anything besides watermelons and persimmons is a moral thing to do, based upon their skewed moral examples back at home. Now, this may not be a credit to Southern honor, but it’s the truth! As a congressional leader of Louisiana before and after the Civil War, I have seen the standard of living in my state fall from the very highest in the South to the very lowest, and I know what it is like to watch your people suffer and discard their pride for survival. Before we condemn Huckleberry Finn for displaying imperfect characters that represent the worst aspects of the pre-war South, we must understand how very real the situation Mark Twain describes is.
“Sir,” I hear you cry, “how can it be that Mark Twain supports the doctrine of white supremacy when his protagonist spends the entire book stealing a Negro?” That is an excellent question. I know well that no real Southerner would support a book which promoted the abolitionist creed that whites and blacks are equal, but I, as genuine a Southerner as anyone you ever met, am fully in favor of Huck Finn. Why? For two reasons.
First of all, Huck Finn is NOT a heartless abolitionist sympathizer. At no time in the book does he accept the idea that a Negro is as good as a white man, only that he does “believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks do for their’n.” This is certainly an acceptable, albeit sentimentalist, attitude for a Southern narrator to take. Furthermore, Huck seriously considers turning Jim in at two different points, when slave hunters sail past as he rows towards what he thinks is Cairo and when Jim is sold by the two con artists Huck has foolishly taken up with. Huck never actually rejects the idea of white superiority, and as he says, “a body that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show.” Whether or not this is true, his failure to turn Jim in represents a fascinating character weakness rather than a belief in racial equality.
Secondly, Mark Twain deliberately wrote the end of the book to ensure that Huck’s ultimate act of betrayal towards the South, his attempt to actively steal Jim out of slavery rather than do “whichever came handiest at the time,” was muted by the fact that Jim was already free by the laws of the land, and so Huck’s sentimental heart fails to cause any great injustice to Jim’s mistress after all. This is telling, for Mark Twain is no Northern abolitionist or carpetbagger, and after all he was born and bred in the same South Huckleberry Finn and I were. The Missouri Jim flees in 1840 is one in which one out of forty Negros is legally free, and so it’s no aberration for Jim to be the same. Although Twain certainly sympathizes with the Negro more than most whites, he never turns the white-black status quo upside down, and he specifically writes to ensure that, against all odds, the climax of the book involves no Negro-stealing. This preserves the humor so that we may enjoy it without the crisis of conscience Huck suffers under throughout the novel.
Why should we protest a realistic novel just because of an imperfect narrator? It’s just a book, folks, and not a bad one either.
This, I was told by one of the student judges later, was probably the best-delivered argument out of all eight presented that day. However, when it came time to do the rebuttal, I blew it.
I started off well, attacking a couple of people, but I chose somebody to attack that I had next to nothing to go on, and I stammered and stuttered for the last minute of my two minutes provided. Actually, that's not true... I just stopped talking. I hate it when I freeze up like that. With the ten-second warning, though, I had to say SOMETHING to redeem myself, so, building on what the "concerned parent" I was attacking had said about her children possibly deciding to run away after reading this book, I decided to growl the following:
"You're a TERRIBLE parent."
The line was perfectly delivered, and the girl told me afterwards that I'd attacked her more successfully than anyone else. This was obviously not true - unless this had been a TV show or something else where drama mattered, I would have looked like a complete fool. As it was, my actual rebuttal grade must have tanked. But hey, at least I finished up in style! :P