Emotional Segregation: Huckleberry Finn in the Modern Classroom

62 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2012

See all articles by Sharon E. Rush

Sharon E. Rush

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 2003


This paper explores the harm of teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in public school classrooms. Such harm can be broadly described as emotional segregation, which occurs when society sanctions disrespect. To illustrate the effects of emotional segregation, this article explores the reaction Black students and parents have to the novel to that of White students and parents. For example, Toni Morrison relates her reaction to the novel, typical of that experienced by many Black students, and compares it to the reaction of Ernest Hemingway. When they read the novel as children, they were separated by more than a simple difference of opinion about the literary value of the book. White students eagerly imagine being Huck and going on his adventures. Black students, however, cannot and should not even be asked to try to imagine being Huck and betraying their racial identity. But then who are the Black students supposed to identify with as their White classmates enjoy the book? Jim, a slave? Is that healthy for Black students? What message does that teach children about race relations? Morrison related that the novel shamed her and emotionally segregated her from Hemingway and her other White classmates who were not shamed by the book. Further emotional segregation resulted from her classmates voluntarily isolating themselves from her because they could not relate to her experience.

Should we remedy emotional segregation based on race? Emotional segregation may be considered solely a remnant of the legal subordination of Blacks under de jure segregation: a social harm model. Emotional segregation may be considered a continuing social and legal harm that is traceable to de jure segregation: a legal harm model. A legal harm model acknowledges that social and legal inequality are linked, and presupposes that legal remedies should exist to address the inequality. A legal harm model could define emotional segregation as a tort (emotional abuse) or as a violation of the constitutional right to equal protection, if caused by a state actor.

This article explores emotional segregation in a narrow context: emotional segregation of children based on race in public school classrooms, using Huckleberry Finn to develop the concept because of the novel's canonical status and widespread use in public schools. It is important to stop emotional segregation as quickly as possible. This article invites scholars and practitioners to gain a better understanding of emotional segregation and help develop and promote a legal harm model.

Keywords: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, emotional segregation, racial equality, public schools, segregation, integration, legal harm model, canon

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Rush, Sharon E., Emotional Segregation: Huckleberry Finn in the Modern Classroom (2003). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2166915

Sharon E. Rush (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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