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Mr. Hentoff's book gives excellent arguments for both sides of the issue. One argument that was constantly used for censorship was that Huckleberry Finn has many offensive passages. These passages are supposed to poison the minds of the young, because they would expose the children to sexism and racism.
Opponents of censorship pointed out that there was a book in all libraries that was never censored. It had many stories containing violence, sex, and adultery. It had passages far worse than those complained about in Huckleberry Finn. These stories came from the Bible! So they argued that if you are going to censor Huckleberry Finn, then you had better censor the Bible too.
Another argument for censorship was that children shouldn't be exposed to lies, because they might believe them. But, as one character said, "The best way to deal with lies is to expose them, to get them out into the light and to deal with them logically."
Throughout the book, arguments supporting Huck were based on the First Amendment. The arguments for banning Huck were based on how the book could offend black people and women. I've read many books in which women were offensively treated as second-class citizens, but I interpret these books as showing life as it was. This is how I assumed black people felt too. But as I was reading Mr. Hentoff's book, I began to wonder about Huck Finn, because no one in the book had said that it was not offensive when interpreted in the right way. They only said that censorship violates the First Amendment. I was finally reassured when a black student in the book spoke up and said, "I know when those words-I mean particularly 'nigger'-are directed at me. In this book those words-particularly 'nigger'-are not intended by the author, Mark Twain, to insult or humiliate me or any other black person. They are clearly intended to rebuke and bring scorn to those ignorant, so-called grown-up, white people in the book who use those words."
The author takes a controversial subject, the First Amendment, and writes in a way that both kids and adults can understand how easily the First Amendment can be violated. Mr. Hentoff presents the issue with humor and style and makes the reader think twice about the US Constitution.
I recommend this book for any person from the age of 10 and up. All persons concerned with censorship, and especially children, should read it, because it will widen their views. When I think of Poland, and how Polish people can't say what they want in public and how they don't have a free press or any of the rights Americans have in the First Amendment, I think how lucky we are to have these rights and how easy it is to let them slip away from us. Children in the United States have to understand the First Amendment because it is violated so often. If they understand the issues now and how the First Amendment affects them, they'll have enough time to think about the problem and deal with it by the time they become adults.
Kathleen McMenamin is an eighth-grade student at Ruffing Montessori School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Michael McMenamin, her father, is a Cleveland attorney and a contributing editor of Reason.