That sound you hear is Mark Twain turning over in his grave

Some scholars have evidently decided that one of American literature’s greatest novels needs to have its mouth washed out with soap.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”

Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”

Including the table of contents, the slur appears 219 times in Finn. What finally convinced Gribben to turn his back on grad school training and academic tradition, in which allegiance to the author’s intent is sacrosanct, was his involvement with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read Alabama.

Tom Sawyer was selected for 2009′s Big Read Alabama, and the NEA tapped NewSouth, in Montgomery, to produce an edition for the project. NewSouth contracted Gribben to write the introduction, which led him to reading and speaking engagements at libraries across the state. Each reading brought groups of 80 to 100 people “eager to read, eager to talk,” but “a different kind of audience than a professor usually encounters; what we always called ‘the general reader.’

“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.” Gribben became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.

Read more.

Comments

  1. It is disgusting, how could that happen? It is a slice of what was then life… Not meant to be improved upon by rewriting. Ugh.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that the “politically correct” crowd has no problem what so ever (in fact, encourages), black genocide, but just can’t live with what Fran accurately addresses as “life as it was then?”

    I would think any of the aborted black babies would gladly accept a classic “as is/was” N word, or anything far more serious for that matter, in exchange for a deserved shot at life.

    Again, PHONINESS exposed. If the black vote didn’t matter to the politically correct crowd, or the day that it no longer does, the “N word” will be of no concern.

    Follow the agenda, AKA, power elite…

  3. When we sanitize history, we cloud the vision of future generations. We can’t appreciate whence we came if we can’t see whence we came.

    In New York City, since 1970 there have been 4.3 million abortions—in New York City alone. The Vital Statistics data of the city show that for as long as they have tracked these abortions by race, 79% of them have been black and Hispanic women having the abortions (47% and 32%, respectively).

    That means in 4 decades, 3.3 million black and Hispanic babies have been snuffed out in New York City, and not a peep from academia.

    Planned Parenthood operates 78% of its abortuaries in the inner city, and not a peep from academia.

    But a classic piece of literature accurately portrays life in the nineteenth century, using a word that young blacks use today to address one another, and the thought police descend on it with bottles of white-out.

    In 2008 in NYC, whites had 512 abortions per 1,000 live births.
    Hispanics had 687 abortions per 1,000 live births.
    Blacks had 1,260 abortions per 1,000 live biths.

    And the white academics can only screw up faux outrage at Twain using the word “nigger”.

    A race of people is aborting more children than it is having, with Planned Parenthood saturating their neighborhoods, and academia’s response is to sanitize a book that is 125 years old.

    In their silence is their assent.

  4. Wow. I’m not sure how a discussion of the “n” word in Huckleberry Finn can turn into a discussion of abortion.

    Anyway, it is disturbing that this book has been change. However, it isn’t the first time a novel has been sanitzed for our protection. It’s just that Huckleberry Finn is such a classic that we feel it shouldn’t be touched.

    The Story of Doctor Dolittle was revised to remove the “n” word (used only once) and then revised again to change the story of the African prince who longed to be white. I believe it was revised by the author.

    Mary Poppins was revised to change a chapter in which Mary Poppins and her charges meet an Eskimo, a Chinaman, an African native and a Injun. The author also did the revisions in this case. And it probably was a good thing. The African native said things like “Mar’ Poppins. Bring them chillun over here and give em a slice of watermelon.” Not kidding.

    Anyway, unless Mark Twain himself comes back and rewrites it, I say leave the book alone.

  5. Meggan (Quote):

    Wow. I’m not sure how a discussion of the “n” word in Huckleberry Finn can turn into a discussion of abortion. (End Quote)

    Meggan perhaps the better question might be:

    How can the poliltically correct even possibly be taken seriously about the “n world”, when the reality is, those same people remain silent/and or promote, black genocide?

    Answer: The “n word ban” has absolutely nothing to do with the genuine emotional well being of blacks, and everything to do with votes and power.

  6. I have taught students that for the most part being “politically correct” is a way of being sensitive and kind, although some people can carry it to an extreme (as I believe Professor Gribben is doing.) I have known of English teachers who have made alternative assignments to students who have are sensitive to the “n” word. I have no problem with that. After all, we have a very rich legacy of American Literature.

    I fail to see the equivalency of being “politically correct” and being pro-life, as several previous commentators on this post have implied. Are all pro-choice advocates, then, proponents of “politically correctness”? (I doubt it.) Is there any information about Professor Gribben’s stance on abortion? Is he pro-choice?

  7. Revision of my previous post.

    Please omit: I fail to see the equivalency of being “politically correct” and being pro-life, as several previous commentators on this post have implied.

    I meant: I fail to see the equivalency of being “politically correct” and being pro-choice, as several previous commentators on this post have implied.

  8. “PC” is kind of the bad buzz-word of the third millenium, but I basically agree with HMS. I can’t be too hard on the professor because his goal is to have kids be able to read Huck Finn without missing the points of the book. Language changes, if you don’t believe it try reading “Canterbury Tales” in the original. At the time Huckleberry Finn was written, the “n” word seems to have been kind of slangy and not really proper, but not a curse word. Things have changed; hopefully we have become more sensitive to how hurtful it was to African Americans.
    It should be noted that Mark Twain does not seem to have been a racist and it would be unfair if people got that impression of him because he wrote in the vernacular of his time.

  9. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    Leave the book alone. Leave another writer’s work alone. It’s not for another generation to “sanitize” anything according to their lights. What busybodies. Can you image if religious people had fiddled with Sons and Lovers, the outcry? What hypocrites!

  10. ron chandonia says:

    The kind of PC nonsense on exhibit here has profoundly negative effects on those it purports to protect. In the case of the infamous n-word, treating its use as the ultimate social taboo has made it all the more commonplace in the parlance of those black youth who are most badly off–that is, impoversihed ghetto kids left who see it as a term of empowerment. (“I can say this and whitey can’t!”) The musically talented among them salt their vile rap ditties with the n-word to prove how “bad” they are, and the same PC-idiocy that drives the word out of a classic American novel also compels white suburban parents to let their teenage children purchase those vile rap songs and play them at full volume. In PC-think, you see, ghetto rap is revered as high art, while Huck Finn is just an old story.

  11. pagansister says:

    The book is an example of life in those times, complete with the “N” word. Is that word now unacceptable? Yes, but in that time frame, no. I don’t think it should be re-written. And yes, what has abortion got to do with this topic??

  12. Also

    “The new edition will also change “Injun Joe” to “Indian Joe” and “half-breed” to “half-blood.”

    Will the next stop on the PC Express train be to change Shylock into an agnostic in the Merchant of Venice?

    Actually several news reports have highlighted that Mr. Twain himself was very clear as to how he saw language and word selection.

    “Twain once described the difference between the almost-right word and the right word as the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

    Despite the new editor’s protests that Twain would not mind seeing his work altered, Twain was also quite clear as to his thoughts on this matter too….

    “Twain himself did not take kindly to editing, Hirst says. When he discovered a printer had made punctuation changes to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, he wrote that he had “given orders for the typesetter to be shot without giving him time to pray.””

  13. I think Dr. Nadal’s point was to expose the hypocrisy of a society that takes great pains to protect African Americans from hearing or reading the n-word, while feeling no pangs of anguish whatsoever and, in fact, facilitating the process of African Americans being killed off at remarkable rates by abortion.

    The offensive words should not be edited out. They are there, not because Twain was a racist, but because he desired to faithfully portray the culture and values of the time of the story. To change them to words more acceptable to our generation is to destroy Twain’s intent and, therefore, one of the reasons he wrote the story in the first place. To change the language of the characters is to re-create the characters while pretending it’s still Twain’s work. It’s both absurd and dishonest. I would argue that it’s better for students NOT to read Huck Finn than to read a bowlderized version.

    Rather than change the language, better to teach it. Use the language of the culture and time of Twain’s novel to teach the lesson of what language means and how it effects us, even when we don’t realize we’re being effected by it. Why is this language offensive now? Why was it so common then? What point was Twain trying to make in purposefully attempting to include a faithful characterization of the dialects of the people about whom he wrote? Why do some demand the book no longer be taught, while others recommend changing the offensive language, and still others leaving it intact? What a shame that the easy way out is being taken. We’re losing the lesson of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

    I recall the decision of a priest in a parochial school in Louisiana who banned Flannery O’Connor from the curriculum for the same reason. In an interview with Amy Welborn, he said he had never read O’Connor had not intention of doing so, feigning righteous anger at the work of a woman who used her mighty pen to reveal the destructive nature of racism and bigotry (ie: “The Artificial Nigger” and “The Displaced Person”).

    FYI: my own sophomore daughter is reading Huck Finn right now as a requirement for her honors English class at her public high school. Bravo!

  14. “Use the language of the culture and time of Twain’s novel to teach the lesson of what language means and how it effects us, even when we don’t realize we’re being effected by it.”
    That’s a good idea. I agree that it is better to read works as they were written. However, if some parents objected (to the work as a class assignment), they could opt for their kids to read the Gribbens version. It’s just a teaching tool, it’s never going to replace the original version.

  15. pagansister says:

    BobRN: Excellent post—you said things much better than I could. Thanks. Also, good for your daughter’s honors class!

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