Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices [NOOK Book]


Published in 1884, Huckberry Finn has become one of the most widely taught novels in American curricula. But where did it come from, and what made it so distinctive? Shelly Fisher Fishkin suggests that in Huckleberry Finn, more than in any other work, Mark Twain let African-American voices, language, and rhetorical traditions play a major role in the creation of his art. In Was Huck Black?, Fishkin combines close readings of published and unpublished writing by Twain with intensive biographical and historical ...
See more details below
Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price


Published in 1884, Huckberry Finn has become one of the most widely taught novels in American curricula. But where did it come from, and what made it so distinctive? Shelly Fisher Fishkin suggests that in Huckleberry Finn, more than in any other work, Mark Twain let African-American voices, language, and rhetorical traditions play a major role in the creation of his art. In Was Huck Black?, Fishkin combines close readings of published and unpublished writing by Twain with intensive biographical and historical research and insights gleaned from linguistics, literary theory, and folklore to shed new light on the role African-American voices played in the genesis of Huckleberry Finn. Given that book's importance in American culture, her analysis illuminates, as well, how African-American voices have shaped our sense of what is distinctively "American" about American literature. Fishkin shows that Mark Twain was surrounded, throughout his life, by richly talented African-American speakers whose rhetorical gifts Twain admired candidly and profusely. A black child named Jimmy whom Twain called "the most art-less, sociable, and exhaustless talker I ever came across" helped Twain understand the potential of a vernacular narrator in the years before he began writing Huckberry Finn, and served as a model for the voice with which Twain would transform American literature. A slave named Jerry whom Twain referred to as an "impudent and satirical and delightful young black man" taught Twain about "signifying" - satire in an African-American vein - when Twain was a teenager (later Twain would recall that he thought him "the greatest man in the United States" at the time). Other African-American voices left their mark on Twain's imagination as well - but their role in the creation of his art has never been recognized. Was Huck Black? adds a new dimension to current debates over multiculturalism and the canon. American literary historians have told a largely segregated story: w

Revealing an American literary heritage that is not soley white, Fishkin draws from Twain's published and unpublished writings, as well as insights gleaned from linguistics, literary theory, and folklore, to provide a pathbreaking look into the role of African-American voices in the creation of Huckleberry Finn. 18 halftones.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elaborating on a thesis that made news last summer, Fishkin, professor of American Studies at the University of Texas, convincingly argues that Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was influenced by African American voices. Mixing historical and literary research with close analysis of Twain's writings, Fishkin cites a newly discovered 1874 article by Twain that describes his encounter with a black child whose voice was later echoed by Huck; she also assesses the impact of his childhood friendship with a ``signifying'' slave named Jerry. Fishkin suggests Twain's blending of black and white voices was unconscious and maintains that his portrayal of ``nigger'' Jim was more subversive than racist. Though the book seems mainly aimed at academics, it also considers the question of whether Huckleberry Finn should be taught in high school. Black students might now more easily identify with Huck, Fishkin states, but the major African American figure remains the minstrel-voiced Jim. Therefore, she suggests that teachers also expose students to more powerful black voices, such as those of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Here is that rarity in criticism, a monograph almost sure to be definitive. Fishkin (American studies, Univ. of Texas, Austin) argues compellingly that an 1874 sketch by Mark Twain, about the black ten-year-old ``Sociable Jimmy,'' served as the model for Huck Finn's African American-rooted dialect--along with ``A True Story'' (1874), based on a tale by an ex-slave, Mary Ann Cord. There was also a slave Twain knew in boyhood, Jerry, who taught him the African American art of ``signifying'' satire. Twain's genius with vernacular has always been acknowledged, but Fishkin shows, with formidable scholarship, how black speech (and life) influenced white culture and how, in American literature, the Twain do indeed meet. Recommended for informed readers and scholars. For a perspective on Twain's humor, see Mark Twain's Critical Humor , reviewed below.--Ed.-- Kenneth Mintz, Hoboken P.L., N.J.
Martha Schoolman
The author's central claim, which received so much fanfare in the academic world and even in the popular press last summer, is that Twain's character Huck Finn was based in part on a black child. Fishkin bases her argument on the speech similarities between Huck and "Sociable Jimmy," whose conversation Twain recorded in a 1874 "New York Times" article. Her evidence is thoroughly and impressively presented; but what may make the book more truly revolutionary are the ways in which she proves the impact of African American culture on Twain and on mainstream American literature in general. In doing so, Fishkin explicitly takes up the challenge to critics to seek out such influences issued by novelist Toni Morrison in her 1992 book "Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination". Fishkin takes discussion of what is commonly viewed as the first great American novel beyond debate over whether Twain was a "racist" to a more subtle and fruitful discussion of the interdependence of black and white artistic production.
Tony Tanner
Fishkin's claim is strong and simple…and, as far as I am concerned, she is right…She brings the material together with lucidity, elegance, and non-polemical judiciousness and poise.
London Review of Books
Eric J. Sundquist
Will force a real examination of the very premises on which critics base the origins and racial composition of American literature.
Newsday (New York)
Malcolm Bradbury
Constructs an admirable case for the cultural complexity, not just of Twain, but of American literature.
The Independent (London)
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199728756
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/5/1994
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

About the Author: Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Professor of American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of the award-winning book From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America. Her essays and reviews on American literature, American Studies, and issues of race and gender have appeared in publications including The New York Times, American Literature, American Literary History, and the Journal of American History. Professor Fishkin, who has lectured on her work in England, Israel, Europe, Mexico, and across the United States, was a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, 1992-1993.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2012


    Why is there a book for that

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)