Suggested length: 7-14 days
Ending the Huck Finn unit with a look at slave narratives and an examination of the legacy of slavery today is essential to teaching Huck Finn in a fuller context. Students who may not have studied slavery in other classes will better understand Twain's account of slavery as fiction. They will also examine the conditions under which slaves lived, and the varied ways in which they resisted these conditions. Although we suggest reading Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, you may want to use other readings from The Classic Slave Narratives, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (New York: Mentor, 1987), such as Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Students will thus end their study of the book with an image of slaves not as passive or helpless, but as strong and proud.
Some students may reevaluate Jim in a less favorable light after reading other slave narratives. This provides a good opportunity to review Twain's goals in writing the novel and the difference between the impact and power of fiction versus nonfiction.
The suggested poems will help make some of the themes in this section clearer. Have students read If We Must Die and For My People to examine the issues of resistance and the legacy of slavery. Discussion and activities will help students explore how the legacy of slavery continues today, and, through a final look at Huck Finn, will tie all the pieces of the unit together.
The topics in this section are complex and rich enough to be studied on their own for much longer than two weeks. What follows here, however, are readings, discussion questions, and activities whose primary goal is to help students connect a study of slave life and resistance to their study of Huck Finn. (The resources listed here and in the Bibliography can also support a deeper study.) Additional background may also be given by films such as the Africans in America series You may want to team-teach with a history teacher a lesson about life under slavery.
The original Cherry Hill curriculum suggests that students will more fully appreciate the character of Jim if they understand the importance of folk religion and superstition and their place in African American culture. To add this to the section, you may want to consult the following sources:
Companion Readings for Teachers and Students
Note: These poems can be found in various anthologies.
Dunbar, Paul Lawrence. "Sympathy." In Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African American Writing, edited by Deirdre Mullane. New York: Anchor Books, 1993, 351.
Harper, Frances W. "The Slave Auction." In Children of Promise: African American Literature and Art for Young People, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry A. Abrams, Inc., 1991, 40.
McKay, Claude. "If We Must Die." In Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African American Writing, edited by Deirdre Mullane. New York: Anchor Books, 1993, 467.
Mintz, Steven. "Introduction" and "Conditions of Life." In African American Voices: The Life Cycle of Slavery, edited by Steven Mintz. Revised edition. St. James, NY: Brandywine Press, 1993, 1-28 and 69-83.
Salem, Dorothy C. "Slave Resistance." In The Journey: A History of the African American Experience. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1997, 116-124.
Walker, Margaret. "For My People." In Children of Promise: African American Literature and Art for Young People, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry A. Abrams, Inc., 1991, 99.
See also: Controversy at Cherry Hill
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