The “N” Word Versus Censorship of Mark Twain

Are you kidding me?  That was my reaction to the publication of a version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where the word “nigger” has been replaced with “slave.”  This rewriting of a classic is so wrong on so many levels.  

Mark Twain has been censored.  Really?  On whose authority does a publisher change an author’s work without his or her permission?  Did they think Mark Twain’s word choices were not carefully thought out?  

The ugly truth is that the “n”word and slavery are part of American history and we should own it.  Mark Twain used that word to reveal a character’s life as that character would have experienced it.  We should not forget this period of  American history.  It was wrong and it happened.  

Proponents claim the word makes them uncomfortable and use this to justify why this revised version of Huck Finn is an “improvement.”    Changing a word does not change history. Changing history because it is offensive runs the risks of forgetting.  To forget is to risk recurrence.

In a speech delivered by Hitler in Salzburg in August 1920, he says:

Don’t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus.  Don’t think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis.  This Jewish contamination will not subside, this poisoning of the nation will not end, until the carrier himself, the Jew, has been banished from our midst.

Did reading these lines make me uncomfortable?  Should we change this speech, rewrite it so that Jews are not referred to as “bacillus” and  “racial tuberculosis” because it is offensive?  Of course not.   To do is to run the risk of glorifying Hitler as a misunderstood hero. 

Proponents of the “clean” version of Huck Finn claim that it allows Huck Finn to be taught in schools that have banned the book.  I say shame on the schools that want to cover up history.  Literature is a wonderful way to reveal our past and learn from it.   A classic, well-written novel that stays true to the character can reveal things a dry history textbook of facts cannot.

Does the “n” word make me feel uneasy?  You bet.  I wouldn’t put it in the title to my blog.  I would not use that derogatory word in today’s world.  I hope this word makes school kids and adults uncomfortable too.  If it does, it means we remember.  If it does then we know in our hearts that the word and all the ugly racial undertones carried along with it is wrong.

How do you feel about the release of the new version of Huckleberry Finn?  Do you think the positive aspect that more school children will be exposed to the book outweigh the drawbacks?


2 Responses to The “N” Word Versus Censorship of Mark Twain

  1. Teri T. says:

    I totally agree with you. It seems there are many in our society who are become spineless and have adopted an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ worldview. Changing things to merely suit our comfort level does nothing more than condone living in selfish indulgence and lies.
    I believe it is time to bring back moral character in our nation and teach children to become grown ups. Life isn’t a fairy tale we watch on reality television.

  2. Susan Berman says:

    Get ’em, Jill. Censorship is just that – censorship. So what if certain words make people uncomfortable. Watch TV for 12 minutes and you hear every cuss word there ever was, including g-d this, and g-d that, f-this and that, and nasty things about the mothers of the world. It is imperative to record history as it was and not sanitize it. That’s the way people talked when Huck Finn was in the world. (His father was no prince, either.) What shall we “clean up” next? Shall we say Hitler was only in a really bad mood when he executed 6 million people?

    Lots of books have smut and uncomfortable things in them. Shall we ban the Bible? Oh, yes. We already did that – at least in public schools.

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