Date of Completion
Dr. Kathy Knapp; Dr. Mary Burke
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) wastes no time in condemning the frailties and flaws of mankind’s institutions. Twain’s rollicking tale of a runaway boy, an escaped slave, and the motley crew they assemble as they float down the Mississippi skewers society’s contradictions and interrogates its readers, urging them to confront their own moral hypocrisies. Twain derides romanticized whiteness and the ironies it engenders, but his unabashed use of racist language and employment of minstrelsy paradigms calls the novel’s efficacy as anti-slavery commentary into question: Twain argues for Jim’s humanity, but does he perpetuate a monolithic, reductive conceptualization of Blackness?
In response, contemporary African American satirists explore the origins and implications of literature’s many “Jims.” This class of literature is often humorous and always unflinching; like Huck Finn, these novels breed discomfort amongst a non-Black audience that questions how they might propagate racist archetypes that govern white notions of Black identities. Yet these authors unravel another facet of morality by catechizing their Black audience, too; in each of the aforementioned novels, a Black man must weigh the personal benefits of his surrender to these stereotypes with its generational consequences. This paper explores the evolution of racial satire as it appears in these novels, using Huckleberry Finn as a foundational text. It investigates a central question that Black satirists pose to the reader: in a society that strives to erase them, must African Americans comply with racist ideologies in order to be seen? At what cost?
Gruner, Alexanda, "Let’s Talk About Racism: Contemporary Black American Authors’ Use of Satire and Humor" (2020). Honors Scholar Theses. 843.