Huck, by Wallace, doesn’t believe “He was a mighty good n____*, Jim was.” Instead, “He was a mighty good man, Jim was.” In Twain’s book, Huck, expressing approval of Jim, says, “I knowed he was white inside.” In Wallace’s, this becomes “I knowed he was good.” Why is Wallace so eager to let Huck Finn off the hook? What was, in Twain, a telling exposure of how racism infects even the most sympathetic of characters becomes, in Wallace, just a coupla guys sitting around on a raft, talkin’. Huck is no Simon Legree. He does love Jim, but cannot escape his own racism entirely. That’s the point. The world would be a lot simpler if we had bad guys and good guys, but what we do have is a whole lot of mixed-up, uneasy people positively bustling with ignorance. And that’s Huck—us—the good guys.
And in the most recent Horn Book, “YA Fatphobia”, about the tendency of YA’s fat characters to be “pathologized” binge eaters, and the new crop of fat-acceptance YA.
I can’t comment too much on this since I haven’t read the books Kathryn Nolfi uses as examples, though now I’m curious to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson to see if I agree with her. (It was already on my list; I might bump it up.) She says, “The authors are unclear about the purpose of Tiny’s size,” which indicates to me that Tiny might be just the opposite of the standard YA fat character — not a cipher, the “point” of whose fat is as another character (as opposed to personality) trait. But I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t say.
She wraps up with:
It is possible to write compelling and unsentimental stories for teens without casually insulting fat people, without relegating fat characters to the side, and without portraying fat teens as irretrievably damaged. To rely on the easy fat joke is lazy and oppressive writing.
(Thanks to Rebecca Rabinowitz for that link.)
*I know this can be a triggery word, so I’m leaving it out. Huck Finn, read in class or not, has context and literary import that running across that word in a blog doesn’t.