Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
STR 5:2 (Winter 2014) p. 233
James Henry Harris. The Forbidden Word: The Symbol and Sign of Evil in American Literature, History, and Culture. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books,
Pastor and theologian James Henry Harris writes a witty, engaging book that centers on the use of the “n-word” in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in American society in general. Part literary exegesis, part memoir, Harris criticizes America’s racist past as he positions his own experience, growing up African-American in central Virginia during the 1960s, within that history. Harris argues that there is no essential difference between Twain’s copious use of nigger in Huck Finn and the use of nigga by African-American Hip-Hop artists: both have capitalized on the American creed of African-American inferiority. One major implication of this argument is that every African-American has his or her own history with “the forbidden word,” which also serves as an index of the collective historical experiences of all African Americans.
Harris uses his experience as a first-time reader of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the only African-American student in an English class on the book in
Then there’s Harris’ keen perception in relating a seemingly mundane theme in Huck Finn, smoking, and African-American social life. Harris states that in Huck Finn everyone smokes (as did nearly half of the students in his class). “Huck Finn loved smoking,” writes Harris (p. 36). From this point, Harris rehearses his history with smoking and how the tobacco culture of central Virginia
STR 5:2 (Winter 2014) p. 234
pervaded every area of African-American life, producing an addicted and unhealthy society. Even though Harris makes this astute connection about the love of smoking in Huck Finn’s day and in his own, he fails to connect the history of tobacco cultivation in Virginia with African slavery. There was Harris, a young African-Ameri...
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