In between its very funny pages are also some really beautiful passages, like this gem I read this morning:
It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk and left the quiet earth alone with the stars. It seemed as if, in the silence and the hush, while we her children slept, they were talking with her, their sister-conversing of mighty mysteries in voices too vast and deep for childish human ears to catch the sound.
They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We are as children whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god they have been taught to worship but know not; and, standing where the echoing dome spans the long vista of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some awful vision hovering there.
And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the night. In its great presence, our small sorrows creep away, ashamed. The day has been so full of fret and care, and our hearts have been so full of evil and of bitter thoughts, and the world has seemed so hard and wrong to us. Then Night, like some great loving mother, gentlylays her hand upon our fevored head, and turns our little tear-stained face up to hers, and smiles, and though she does not speak, we know what she would say, and lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the pain is gone.
Sometimes, our pain is very deep and real, and we stand before her very silent, because there is no language for our pain, only a moan. Night's heart is full of pity for us: she cannot ease our aching; she takes our hand in hers, and the little world grows very small and very far beneath us, and, borne on her dark wings, we pass for a moment into a mightier Presence than her own, and in the wondrous light of that great Presence, all human life lies like a book before us, and we know that Pain and Sorrow are but the angels of God.
Only those who have worn the crown of suffering can look upon that wondrous light; and they, when they return, may not speak of it, or tell the mystery they know. (77-78)
Unfortunately, my enjoyment of these passages, or any passage, in this book is overshadowed by one very nasty word that is contained in this book: the n-word. The word does not seem to be uttered with the same feeling of hate or disgust that I normally associate with it. It is mentioned in a passage where one of the characters is talking about a particularly "loud" jacket and it is said, "considered as an article of dress for a human being, except a Margate nigger, it made him ill" (49). Still, the word certainly has a negative connotation and it disgusts me that it is in the book at all when any other word would be better.
While I know that the book was first published in 1889 and that the word was more common back then, the word is still unneccessary and is still fraught with horrible, derogatory meaning. What disturbs me the most about reading the word is knowing that in just one word a whole group of people is excluded. One does not expect one to continue reading or to be reading a book you wrote in the first place if you insult them. There are some people that think that this word is sometimes okay to use, but I disagree. This word is so fraught with demeaning meaning that any time someone hears or sees it, one is disgusted. I have to believe that there are always better words to use in any situation, in any time period. Words matter. Always.