‘N-word’ Removed From New Version Of Mark Twain Classic Huckleberry Finn

'N-word' Removed From New Version Of Mark Twain Classic 'Huckleberry Finn'

NewSouth Books is planning on releasing a watered-down version of one of Mark Twain’s greatest books – ‘Huckleberry Finn’.  With an unprecedented degree of censorship they are planning to release a version of the book in which the word ‘nigger’ does not appear.  If only they could remove the ‘N’ word from all of today’s popular music… .
 
In any case the problem with this politically correct and historically stupid move is that in ‘Huckleberry Finn’ Twain wrote conversation as it occurred at the time of the story – whether or not one finds this offensive is very much beside the point.  Twain was a master of speech and he wrote as people spoke at the time and place of the story – many terms that appear in Huck Finn are not in general use today.  That is because language, especially the vernacular, evolves quickly and incorporates mores and standards of the day.
 
Censorship – changing the words of great authors – is wrong and pointless.  They can change all of the ‘N’ words they want to but the times of slavery and terrible injustice towards African Americans in the USA will not vanish like offensive words can be made to vanish from a story.  In fact – ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and other pieces written during these times should not be altered to fit today’s standards – if anything this risks allowing us to forget or pretend that past was better than it was.  And that is an insult to all who suffered then.

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  • Jeff

    What kind of publisher is this? Clearly they have respect for works of literature. You cannot just sanitize great literary works to suit your own personal preferences…well, clearly you can..but it’s just clearly very wrong. Twain himself was against slavery and anyone who has read the book and understood it can plainly see that it has a message against the dehumanization of blacks such as Jim.

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  • Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are masterpieces, and Alan Gribben has spent a career championing them.

    His new edition of Twain’s two boy books is intended to do two things: reunite the two books as Twain intended, and make them accessible to today’s students who are not presently reading them because they or their teachers are offended by the repetitious use of a single word.

    Would it be better for these teachers to have the training and the classroom time to teach the context of Twain’s use of “nigger”? Of course. But they don’t. It seems better then to introduce the students to this edited volume than to have them forgo the novels altogether. If they read this edition and fall in love with Twain’s storytelling and are seized by the power of the humanity between Huck and Jim, then perhaps they will go on to read and reread — as we and I am sure you do — the original texts.

    Meanwhile, can you seriously assert that Twain’s skill and meaning have been stricken from this passage:

    >>> I had to tell Jim I didn’t find out how far it was to Cairo. He was pretty sorry. There warn’t nothing to do, now, but to look out sharp for the town, and not pass it without seeing it. He said he’d be mighty sure to see it, because he’d be a free man the minute he seen it, but if he missed it he’d be in the slave country again and no more show for freedom. Every little while he jumps up and says:
    “Dah she is!”
    But it warn’t. It was Jack-o-lanterns, or lightning-bugs; so he set down again, and went to watching, same as before. Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free—and who was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn’t rest; I couldn’t stay still in one place. It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it staid with me and scorched me more and more. I tried to make out to myself that I warn’t to blame, because I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn’t no use, conscience up and says, every time, “But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody.” That was so—I couldn’t get around that, noway. That was where it pinched. Conscience says to me, “What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her slave go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, she tried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every way she knowed how. That’s what she done.”
    I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead. I fidgeted up and down the raft, abusing myself to myself, and Jim was fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Every time he danced around and says, “Dah’s Cairo!” it went through me like a shot, and I thought if it was Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness.
    Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.
    It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, “give a slave an inch and he’ll take an ell.” Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this slave which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm. <<<

    Gribben changed two words in those 550 words. Can you find them? And if you can, can you honestly tell me that it makes more difference to you to leave them in than it does to a black child in an Alabama classroom to take them out?

    Meanwhile, you might want to read Gribben's introduction. See http://www.newsouthbooks.com.

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  • Randall Williams – there are 4 points: 1)if the n-word were dangerous like a recipe for a deadly poison, then by all means change it – but it is not; 2)the n-word is ubiquitous in popular music – censor that before a classic; 3)words are changed in classics at times because they are no longer considered a part of the language or are so archaic as to be incomprehensible to the great majority of intended readers – sadly, this is not the case with the n-word – which in fact is not only understaood by native english speakers but is part of the global lingua franca; 4) Twain wrote as people spoke – why would you want to lie about history?