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Humor Race And Misunderstanding

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Humor, Race and Misunderstanding

"Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious."

Peter Ustinov

In "On Being Crazy", DuBois defines crazy as behavior based on illogical perceptions. Both the narrator and wayfarer agree that the wayfarer walking in the mud and becoming muddy rather than walk along side a dirty nigger who is clean is crazy. DuBois illustrates that society prefers to cut off its nose to spite its face instead of fixing the nose. Twain builds much of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the same manner. His commentary regarding the social injustice is buried within the story's humor. While it isn't readily available on the surface, if one is so inclined to look, it can be easily found.

In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain satirizes the idiocy and cruelty of society in general. The language of the book, despite its accurate reflection of 19th century dialect, in and of itself is an illustration of misunderstanding.

Nigger. Although it has acquired additional connotations in today's society, at base, it still evokes an intense emotional and psychological response. Even now, in print or in speech, the word nigger causes one to cringe. Today, no one would tolerate being referred to as a nigger let alone called a nigger to their face. However, Jim and every other black, free or slave, endured that insult daily because it was a part of the social fabric. Even those with 'good intentions' used nigger as a utility word to describe blacks. In six letters, n-i-g-g-e-r summarized black life; it was a name, a


rank, and a means of determining value. No one then, with exception of a few, understood the psychological impact the word had on the recipient.

Twain's use of nigger illustrates that the nigger was not only a means of identification, but a description of what one was. It stripped away the humanity and individualism of a person leaving a shell, which was considered sub-human. When a nigger wasn't a nigger, whites were astonished but they didn't separate the nigger from the man. Huck, along with every other white person of the time believed blacks couldn't be as intelligent as whites. "...Well, he was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head for a nigger" (Norton Anthology 266).

DuBois makes the same case in "On Being Crazy". "'Niggers' is dirty," he said. So is mud, said I. Moreover I added, I am not as dirty as you-at least not yet. "But you're a 'nigger' ain't you?" he asked (Dubois 2). Although the narrator isn't dirty or ignorant, the white wayfarer simply can't comprehend that a black man could be anything other than a nigger. In fact, it is the white man who using the standards of the day embodies



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