Taking the “N-Word” Out of Huckleberry Finn – Updated!

This post is a response to the Cnn iReport here.

I understand how offensive the ‘N’ word is and the racism that existed during the time of this book being written cannot and should not be tolerated now.  HOWEVER, Mark Twain is one of America’s truly great early authors so should we not take pause before ‘editing’ his work?

Ernest Hemingway commented once that all modern literature in our country sparks from the birth of this Twain novel.  We learn from this microcosm of pre-Civil War America the prevalent attitudes of racism and the social injustice of slavery that leads to the Civil War.  The fact that the language of the book shocks readers today is poignant — it reflects the massive shift in our culture towards civil rights and the freedom of mankind.

By making Mark Twain “politically correct” (sanitization), we open ourselves as a nation to stripping from his novels the elements that made them relevant to the time it was written and a reminder of where we have progressed today.

If we begin with Mark Twain, certainly one of the most celebrated authors in our country, where will this path down the rabbit-hole lead?  Might we not then also begin to re-examine other classic works?  What is to prevent others from sanitizing works of other “hot topics” that often make banned books week, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “1984”?  What stops us from re-writting any historic work that challenges popular opinion, be it the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln (where the phrase “under God” was challenged in October 2010), or The Bible?

In this new decade, I wonder, what will America find down the ‘rabbit-hole’ of censorship?

01/22/2011 Update:

Something to chew on — Have you read any of Mark Twain’s works?  Which ones?  Have you seen the film(s)?  Tell me about them!  What do you think of these new changes proposed to alter the books?

3 thoughts on “Taking the “N-Word” Out of Huckleberry Finn – Updated!

  1. Censorship, such as the new edition exhibit, is the weapon for those who do not want to face the truth. in this case, that racism existed, and still does, in our history. Substituting the word “slavery” for “nigger” doesn’t change the facts of history.

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  2. I agree, but would add that although Jim was a slave, calling him just ‘slave’ is a statement of a fact. The ‘n’ word used is certainly more derogatory but it also conveys the prevalent attitude of the time. Mr. Twain must have desired the authenticity of the language in his novel or he wouldn’t of used the term so frequently.

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  3. Toni Morrison gave a series of lectures that were compiled in a book titled, Playing in the Dark: the whiteness of literary imagination. She makes claims that white authors that use this kind of language use it to establish their own authority – meaning that white people can’t establish their right to be “free” until they firmly establish who is “unfree.” It’s an interesting premise (and one I have used in a paper to describe Marjory Kinnan Rawlings’ stories.)

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