Thursday, January 6, 2011

Huck Finn Censored Again, No More N-word

Even the illustrations in Huck Finn are
shocking by contemporary standards.
Mark Twain is, in my opinion, one of the most influential American writers of books for children. The interesting fact is that he really wasn't a children's writer. Most of his body of work was for adults. In fact, in the preface of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he specifically makes of point of telling adults the book is suitable for them as well as children.

It's follow-up, The Adventures Huck Finn, was clearly social commentary. And it's one of the most effective examples in literary history. I can still remember being shocked when I read it as a kid--the characters were so racist, I wasn't sure if it was an accurate representation of that time. It was just something I couldn't wrap my 12-y.o. brain around.

Today, Forbes has an article, about a publisher in Alabama that wants to sanitize Huck Finn. To quote slashdot:
Over a hundred years after the death of its author, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be released in a censored format removing two derogatory racial slurs: "injun" and "nigger." The latter appears some 219 times in the original novel but both will be replaced by the word "slave.
Toning down Huck Finn is really just an attempt to sanitize our national history. Children should be allowed to see a clear picture of the past--no matter how ugly--in the hope that they will so be shocked and disgusted by it that they will find it impossible to tolerate bigotry in their own lives.

I thought it was only fair to link to a blog with the opposing view. I think, the idea here, is that some (perhaps many) students will find Huck Finn personally hurtful. That is a good point; while we do need to teach kids about racism in America, we need to be very sensitive about how we do it.

However, I find the blogger's assertion that Huck Finn is not relevant today, shows her clear mis-understanding of the novel. Even if we someday reach the Dream of a society where color doesn't matter, we'll still need to study our history to keep it that way.


  1. That, to me, is ridiculous. Its part of history. It's the way things were. God sometimes I really hate super conservatives.

  2. What's the endgame to taking out the N-word? Are we supposed to teach our children that 19th century whites had respect for African Americans and Native Americans? What's next, we erase the slave trade and the systematic extermination of American Indians from the history books?

    I love history, but it's 90% about bad crap happening to people, usually at the hands of other people. If you take out all the bad from the last 6000 years or so, you'd be left with about 22 minutes of human history. The idea behind it is: you study the bad stuff and learn from it, so it doesn't happen again.

    Less than two centuries ago, half of the USA went to war to protect their god-given right to enslave their fellow human beings. Censoring a book will never change that.

  3. If this is done I can only ask, "What's next?"
    Perhaps Tolkein's works can be redone so they're more understanding of the orcs rights to live where and how they want.

  4. That's ridiculous; I've seen other blog posts on this too. (And Corey, it's not just "conservatives" who are doing that; I think it's just PC-hyper people.) In the context and time period of the book, that IS the word they used, derogatory or not!

  5. It is what it is. I don't have a problem with them removing it from a mandatory reading program... let parents decide what their children read. But don't change history! Those books tell a story, not just about some kids, but some kids from a particular place during a particular era.

  6. That is ridiculous. clemens couldn't have portrayed the era and attitudes of the time w/o that word. if i stumble upon an older copy in a bookstore i'm going to get it while it's still the way it was written. i hate that it's clemens getting rewritten too.

  7. Sir, how are you doing? I heard about this last week. I'm always concerned with not so much today, but tomorrow; therefore, my worry would be what they would like to change next.
    In any event, I swung by to let you know that I have nominated you for an award. I know it can be work, but I hope you will find it fun. I hope you'll swing by my blog and pick it up:


  8. If we don't see the ugliness of the prejudices of the past (and some still have those prejudices) then how can we stop them coming about all over again in a future generation? If they're worried about the words in the book they should put a warning on the cover, not change the book and then pretend it's the same book. It's an insult to the author!

    There's an award for you on my blog:

  9. Hi, me again. How's it going? I've passed on an award to you today. Congrats! Come by to fetch/save the image to post on your blog:
    Artzicarol Ramblings

  10. I completely agree with you on all counts. There's no place for sanitizing literature.

    P. S. I found your blog by way of Carol Riggs from her awards post.