When I read Huckleberry Finn in high school, my teacher spent all of our time focusing on making sure we understood why Huck used terms like the n-word and other really sensitive words that are found in the book. We focused on slavery, and poverty, and sometimes got to talk a little bit about the superstitions of the time and the way they permeate the book.
Definitely all good things to talk about, but not once, not ever, can I remember her saying, “Did any of you, you know, laugh hysterically while reading this?”
For a book that begins:
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
-By Order of the Author, Per G.G., Chief of Ordinance
you would think some talk of humor would be included in the discussion of the book, but no, an A.P. Language class has no time for humor, so it was never brought up. We were taught not to see the fun in books. Even books by Mark Twain, who laughed at the world like nobody’s business, we were taught that it was not supposed to be an entertaining experience. It was all about cultural and historical understanding, and nothing was funny about Huck making fun of Jim for saying picking up a snake skin is bad luck, but then immediately explaining that seeing the moon over your left shoulder is about the worst thing that a fellow can do. Irony abounds in this book, and yet we weren’t shown any of it.
The first time around, I thought this book was dead boring because I didn’t know I was allowed to look for anything other than that. Thank God I’m reading it a second time around, next I’m thinking of going back and reading The Great Gatsby again. I hear it’s good, but you’d never know it from the way we talked about it in eleventh grade.