A word from Tom Sawyer


Reader Tom Sawyer writes the most offbeat and perhaps the most illuminating message we have received in response to our Great American Novel poll:

Since Huckleberry Finn appears well on the way to winning your poll, I thought I should share a little perspective with you.

Born as a Tom Sawyer (there used to be one in every Sawyer family!), I was introduced to Tom and Huck at an early age. While I found the name a burden during my early years, I later came to realize it was quite an asset to have a name people could remember.

In the 1960s and 1970s I could always respond to “How do you spell that name?” with “Just like in the book!” By the 1980s I noticed that response sometimes produced a blank stare from the younger clerks behind many a counter. By the 1990s that response had become useless. (Of course, trying “just like lawyer, but with an S” produced total perplexity — but that’s a subject for another letter). I figured out that the banning of Huckleberry Finn from grade schools and high schools was the source of the problem.

Interestingly, my wife and I travel a good bit and host numerous foreign guests in our home. Tom Sawyer is instantly recognizable to any young English-speaker from any continent outside of North America. They have all read Huckleberry Finn in the course of learning both English and American culture. Too bad America’s younger generations can’t share in this wonderful novel.

As Huck in the novel, so Huckleberry Finn in today’s high school. The novel is itself a victim of the hectoring Miss Watson writ large in the culture of political correctness suffocating secondary education.

UPDATE: The estimable Emily Mirengoff writes:

As one of “America’s Younger Generation,” I just wanted to reassure you that, as much as Huck may be banned in some schools, he is well promoted in others. For instance, in the AP Lit class that I just completed, Huck Finn was the centerpiece (and highlight) of the second semester curriculum, taught by a teacher who engrained her love of the book into her students. Not only that, but as I was reading the book, I happened to be at a job interview at a local theater, where my boss mentioned that the theater was, in fact, currently showing a version of Huck Finn. I was delighted to see loads of little kids swarming the theater just before the performance. Thus, I just thought I’d send you this note in order to partially assuage your fears about America’s lack of Twain literacy.


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