‘Huck Finn’ without the N-word

A new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn will leave out all of the N-words, which have caused some people to charge the novel with racism, even though the point of the book is to combat racism.  From a CNN report:

What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will remove all instances of the N-word — I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch — present in the text and replace it with slave.

The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it.

“Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

Unsurprisingly, there are already those who are yelling “Censorship!” as well as others with thesauruses yelling “Bowdlerization!” and “Comstockery!”

Their position is understandable: Twain’s book has been one of the most often misunderstood novels of all time, continuously being accused of perpetuating the prejudiced attitudes it is criticizing, and it’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context.

On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

via New edition of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to lose the N-word – CNN.com.

So I wonder if those who support this bowdlerization would also support cutting out the profanity and the sex scenes from the modern novels taught in schools.  At any rate, what do you think about this?  Should a work of literary art be altered away from the author’s own words and intentions, if that work could thus be made palatable to more readers?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • WebMonk

    “who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it.”

    What? He thinks the word “nigger” is some sort of anachronistic word that people won’t really understand today?

    Apparently he has never hung out in a low income “projects” development. The word “nigger” is alive and well, I can assure him! Interestingly, the kids even use it vaguely accurately – they don’t use it as a verb or an adjective. (yes, I am that nerdy about words)

  • WebMonk

    “who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it.”

    What? He thinks the word “nigger” is some sort of anachronistic word that people won’t really understand today?

    Apparently he has never hung out in a low income “projects” development. The word “nigger” is alive and well, I can assure him! Interestingly, the kids even use it vaguely accurately – they don’t use it as a verb or an adjective. (yes, I am that nerdy about words)

  • Caleb

    I remember studying Huck Finn in college under a black professor, and I’m sure that Dr. Rutledge is furious at this lunacy. To remove he word “nigger” is to miss the point, Jim is the ONLY character in the book portrayed as thoughtful and intelligent.

    I quote the Simpson’s character Comic Book Guy: “It is clear that we do not understand the meaning of sarcasm.”

  • Caleb

    I remember studying Huck Finn in college under a black professor, and I’m sure that Dr. Rutledge is furious at this lunacy. To remove he word “nigger” is to miss the point, Jim is the ONLY character in the book portrayed as thoughtful and intelligent.

    I quote the Simpson’s character Comic Book Guy: “It is clear that we do not understand the meaning of sarcasm.”

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Funny.

    So, are they going to come out with versions of certain rap songs without the n-word?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Funny.

    So, are they going to come out with versions of certain rap songs without the n-word?

  • LAJ

    We just need enlightened teachers who are not afraid of teaching. My son read it in class in high school so there are some teachers who still use it.

  • LAJ

    We just need enlightened teachers who are not afraid of teaching. My son read it in class in high school so there are some teachers who still use it.

  • Joe

    Caleb makes a good point. Jim is portrayed in the book in a most positive light and then that image of Jim is contrasted by the label nigger. The point is to point out how wrong it was to label such a good man as some how less than others for no reason but the color of his skin. As you read the book, you can almost feel Huck’s shame as he hears or says the word because he has come to learn that Jim may be the greatest man he ever knew yet the world calls him nigger.

    The word is used to intentionally make the reader uncomfortable and uneasy. This book is not simply a nice story about an adventurous child. It is a coming of age for our nation told through the lens of a boy who is forced to consider some of the assumptions he grew up with. The use of the word plays a major role in that arc. To replace it with word slave, corrupts it. There were many who did not like the idea of slavery, but that did not mean they saw black folks as fully human or their equals. The use of the word nigger made the social commentary wide enough to point the mirror at even those anti-slavery racists who often got a free pass because they weren’t as bad as the pro-slavery people.

    As to this putting the book into the hands of kids who might not be able to read it because their school was scared into banning it, are there no libraries? Are there no bookstores? Are kids really unable to get books unless the school hands it to them? Sometimes there are things that should either be done right or not done at all. This seems to fall into this category.

  • Joe

    Caleb makes a good point. Jim is portrayed in the book in a most positive light and then that image of Jim is contrasted by the label nigger. The point is to point out how wrong it was to label such a good man as some how less than others for no reason but the color of his skin. As you read the book, you can almost feel Huck’s shame as he hears or says the word because he has come to learn that Jim may be the greatest man he ever knew yet the world calls him nigger.

    The word is used to intentionally make the reader uncomfortable and uneasy. This book is not simply a nice story about an adventurous child. It is a coming of age for our nation told through the lens of a boy who is forced to consider some of the assumptions he grew up with. The use of the word plays a major role in that arc. To replace it with word slave, corrupts it. There were many who did not like the idea of slavery, but that did not mean they saw black folks as fully human or their equals. The use of the word nigger made the social commentary wide enough to point the mirror at even those anti-slavery racists who often got a free pass because they weren’t as bad as the pro-slavery people.

    As to this putting the book into the hands of kids who might not be able to read it because their school was scared into banning it, are there no libraries? Are there no bookstores? Are kids really unable to get books unless the school hands it to them? Sometimes there are things that should either be done right or not done at all. This seems to fall into this category.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Next up; Alex Haley, Kipling’s “Just so stories”……..

    When I handed a volume of Twain to my then 11 year old daughter, I simply told her that there was a word in there that Clemens uses often, and that it’s not one that the “pigmentally impaired” like ourselves ought to be using. She got it.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Next up; Alex Haley, Kipling’s “Just so stories”……..

    When I handed a volume of Twain to my then 11 year old daughter, I simply told her that there was a word in there that Clemens uses often, and that it’s not one that the “pigmentally impaired” like ourselves ought to be using. She got it.

  • Dan Kempin

    I had a few changes in mind for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as well. Whom do I see to get those implemented?

  • Dan Kempin

    I had a few changes in mind for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as well. Whom do I see to get those implemented?

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    When I was in 8th grade (at a Lutheran school), we read Huck Finn. I’m sure we may have discussed the use of the word, but I don’t ever recall it ever being an issue, or anything. I heard a girl in my class actually use the word to refer to the black girls in our class, but that was actually before we ever read the book, and it was one of those “I say these things to look cool” situations. There was a lot of that in 8th grade anyway. :-)

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    When I was in 8th grade (at a Lutheran school), we read Huck Finn. I’m sure we may have discussed the use of the word, but I don’t ever recall it ever being an issue, or anything. I heard a girl in my class actually use the word to refer to the black girls in our class, but that was actually before we ever read the book, and it was one of those “I say these things to look cool” situations. There was a lot of that in 8th grade anyway. :-)

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    The CBC here in Saskatchewan ran the story the other day, and had a “phone-in poll”. Just a single person supported the removal, whilst many (can’t remember the numbers) opposed it.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    The CBC here in Saskatchewan ran the story the other day, and had a “phone-in poll”. Just a single person supported the removal, whilst many (can’t remember the numbers) opposed it.

  • S Bauer

    I insist that the word “rape” in Alexander Pope’s poem be replaced by the word “shearing”

  • S Bauer

    I insist that the word “rape” in Alexander Pope’s poem be replaced by the word “shearing”

  • Orianna Laun

    To sterilize the language is to really miss the point of Huck Finn. I taught the book at a racially mixed Lutheran high school, and my students bristled at the word, yet I made it clear that the word wasn’t the point of the book. I also indicated that it was the term used at the time, historically.
    The point of education is not to remove offense but to educate. Those who want to gloss over Twain’s point hasn’t read the last part where Huck doesn’t want to go back and be “civilized”. Not because he likes floating on a raft naked, but because he’s seen through the false front of civilization.
    Those who follow the doctrine of PC tend to become like the pharisees: they lead society down a sterile, nice path while leaving a wake of hypocrisy–wait, isn’t that Huck’s realization in the first place?

  • Orianna Laun

    To sterilize the language is to really miss the point of Huck Finn. I taught the book at a racially mixed Lutheran high school, and my students bristled at the word, yet I made it clear that the word wasn’t the point of the book. I also indicated that it was the term used at the time, historically.
    The point of education is not to remove offense but to educate. Those who want to gloss over Twain’s point hasn’t read the last part where Huck doesn’t want to go back and be “civilized”. Not because he likes floating on a raft naked, but because he’s seen through the false front of civilization.
    Those who follow the doctrine of PC tend to become like the pharisees: they lead society down a sterile, nice path while leaving a wake of hypocrisy–wait, isn’t that Huck’s realization in the first place?

  • Orianna Laun

    P. S. I advocate banning The Secret Garden because Mary is often feeling “queer”. And she’s hiding in a garden. . .
    (I say this tongue-in-cheek.)

  • Orianna Laun

    P. S. I advocate banning The Secret Garden because Mary is often feeling “queer”. And she’s hiding in a garden. . .
    (I say this tongue-in-cheek.)

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Next, we neuter To Kill a Mockingbird.

    “Do you defend people of color, Attics?” I asked him that evening.
    “Of course I do. Don’t say people of color, Scout. That’s common.”
    “‘s what everybody at school says.”
    “From now on it’ll be everybody less one–”
    “Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?”

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Next, we neuter To Kill a Mockingbird.

    “Do you defend people of color, Attics?” I asked him that evening.
    “Of course I do. Don’t say people of color, Scout. That’s common.”
    “‘s what everybody at school says.”
    “From now on it’ll be everybody less one–”
    “Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?”

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Er.. “Atticus” I mean.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Er.. “Atticus” I mean.

  • DonS

    Once you start revising history, for whatever purpose, it is hard to stop. And historical accounts are forever after hard to trust. This effort to “sanitize” things to avoid offense is actually a slam at the modern reader — a statement that the citizens are no longer mature enough to understand historical context. Ultimately, it means we no longer have the opportunity to learn from our past.

  • DonS

    Once you start revising history, for whatever purpose, it is hard to stop. And historical accounts are forever after hard to trust. This effort to “sanitize” things to avoid offense is actually a slam at the modern reader — a statement that the citizens are no longer mature enough to understand historical context. Ultimately, it means we no longer have the opportunity to learn from our past.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    “Once you start revising history…” – DonS @ 15

    This phrase is just too hilarious to me right now. Good one!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    “Once you start revising history…” – DonS @ 15

    This phrase is just too hilarious to me right now. Good one!

  • DonS

    Hmm, Bryan, I would feel a lot better if I knew why you thought my comment was so hilarious.

  • DonS

    Hmm, Bryan, I would feel a lot better if I knew why you thought my comment was so hilarious.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There does seem to be some inconsistency on this issue.

    On the one hand, people rush to defend the use of the word “nigger” as written by a white man, Clemens. Some of those people then appear to go on to decry the use of the same word by black people.

    Some people defend Clemens’ use of the word as merely describing how people talked back then. But then, that defense is rarely used for people talking that way today, much less for songs depicting modern reality. Nor is it offered in defense of the profanity, drug abuse, and sex that riddle modern literature — and, indeed, modern life.

    Context is important in understanding Clemens’ language, but who is arguing for context when it comes to modern black vernacular?

    Why do black people call each other “nigger”? Why do gay people call each other “queer”? Why do Lutherans call each other … “Lutherans”? For that matter, how do Lutherans feel when they are told by non-Lutherans that they ought not use that label for themselves, since it is bad?

    Anyhow, I’m not defending this bowdlerized edition. (Nor did I need to look up that word in a thesaurus.) But I do think some people are much quicker to offer a defense for the problems of “classic” literature than they are for modern works, even if the situations aren’t all that different.

    I am also suspicious of modern readings of the novel that impute to the word “nigger” a modern connotation.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There does seem to be some inconsistency on this issue.

    On the one hand, people rush to defend the use of the word “nigger” as written by a white man, Clemens. Some of those people then appear to go on to decry the use of the same word by black people.

    Some people defend Clemens’ use of the word as merely describing how people talked back then. But then, that defense is rarely used for people talking that way today, much less for songs depicting modern reality. Nor is it offered in defense of the profanity, drug abuse, and sex that riddle modern literature — and, indeed, modern life.

    Context is important in understanding Clemens’ language, but who is arguing for context when it comes to modern black vernacular?

    Why do black people call each other “nigger”? Why do gay people call each other “queer”? Why do Lutherans call each other … “Lutherans”? For that matter, how do Lutherans feel when they are told by non-Lutherans that they ought not use that label for themselves, since it is bad?

    Anyhow, I’m not defending this bowdlerized edition. (Nor did I need to look up that word in a thesaurus.) But I do think some people are much quicker to offer a defense for the problems of “classic” literature than they are for modern works, even if the situations aren’t all that different.

    I am also suspicious of modern readings of the novel that impute to the word “nigger” a modern connotation.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD, #18,

    “Anyhow, I’m not defending this bowdlerized edition. (Nor did I need to look up that word in a thesaurus.)”

    I did. Looking up the occasional word is one of the reasons I hand around this blog. You guys is smart.

    Even so, I’m not sure I’m all that clear about your point. I agree (if I understand correctly) that the current vernacular is essentially irrelevant to Twain’s work, but what is the “problem” that needs defense in classic literature? Are you saying that Huck Finn is offensively racist, but we just don’t want to admit it? If so, I’ve heard some pretty persuasive argument to the contrary on this thread.

    Or are you saying that we don’t treat modern literature with the same respect as Twain, who accurately captured the pejorative terms of his day to make his point?

    Or have I missed it entirely? (I did have to look up “bowdlerized,” you know.)

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD, #18,

    “Anyhow, I’m not defending this bowdlerized edition. (Nor did I need to look up that word in a thesaurus.)”

    I did. Looking up the occasional word is one of the reasons I hand around this blog. You guys is smart.

    Even so, I’m not sure I’m all that clear about your point. I agree (if I understand correctly) that the current vernacular is essentially irrelevant to Twain’s work, but what is the “problem” that needs defense in classic literature? Are you saying that Huck Finn is offensively racist, but we just don’t want to admit it? If so, I’ve heard some pretty persuasive argument to the contrary on this thread.

    Or are you saying that we don’t treat modern literature with the same respect as Twain, who accurately captured the pejorative terms of his day to make his point?

    Or have I missed it entirely? (I did have to look up “bowdlerized,” you know.)

  • Bryan Lindemood

    DonS @ 17

    Isn’t “revision” pretty much the definition of history? Sorry, that opening line just struck me a funny today – but, I’m a little weird that way, I’m sure.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    DonS @ 17

    Isn’t “revision” pretty much the definition of history? Sorry, that opening line just struck me a funny today – but, I’m a little weird that way, I’m sure.

  • Tom Hering

    From its first publication, Gulliver’s Travels has been edited to make it acceptable to delicate types. Yet we’ve always had unabridged and unexpurgated editions, and it’s these that are responsible for its reputation as a great work of literature. Likewise, the sanitized Huckleberry Finn won’t be treasured by anyone but teachers and fools.

  • Tom Hering

    From its first publication, Gulliver’s Travels has been edited to make it acceptable to delicate types. Yet we’ve always had unabridged and unexpurgated editions, and it’s these that are responsible for its reputation as a great work of literature. Likewise, the sanitized Huckleberry Finn won’t be treasured by anyone but teachers and fools.

  • Joe

    “Context is important in understanding Clemens’ language, but who is arguing for context when it comes to modern black vernacular?”

    I guess I don’t see why I have to take up both causes in order to have an opinion on Huck. If someone were going to use it to make social commentary (say in a rap song) I would say that is a good use of modern black vernacular. I will even go so far as to grant you that some rappers are actually attempting to make a profound social statement – I’ll even grant you that with this subset of people some actually have.

    I think the topic of the social utility of modern rap music is not the topic of the day because no one is attempting to rewrite raps songs 100 years after the fact to satisfy the felt needs of people. (I think having a radio version is a different enough that is is not analogous to Huck) If (when?) that happens I hope people resit it because 100 years from now those rap songs will provide valuable insight into the black communities self-image and perception of the world at large.

  • Joe

    “Context is important in understanding Clemens’ language, but who is arguing for context when it comes to modern black vernacular?”

    I guess I don’t see why I have to take up both causes in order to have an opinion on Huck. If someone were going to use it to make social commentary (say in a rap song) I would say that is a good use of modern black vernacular. I will even go so far as to grant you that some rappers are actually attempting to make a profound social statement – I’ll even grant you that with this subset of people some actually have.

    I think the topic of the social utility of modern rap music is not the topic of the day because no one is attempting to rewrite raps songs 100 years after the fact to satisfy the felt needs of people. (I think having a radio version is a different enough that is is not analogous to Huck) If (when?) that happens I hope people resit it because 100 years from now those rap songs will provide valuable insight into the black communities self-image and perception of the world at large.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan asked (@19) me, “Or are you saying that we don’t treat modern literature with the same respect as Twain, who accurately captured the pejorative terms of his day to make his point?”

    Yes. Sorry I didn’t make that more obvious.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan asked (@19) me, “Or are you saying that we don’t treat modern literature with the same respect as Twain, who accurately captured the pejorative terms of his day to make his point?”

    Yes. Sorry I didn’t make that more obvious.

  • Artie

    Perhaps, its an edition of Huckleberry Finn for in-flight use:)

  • Artie

    Perhaps, its an edition of Huckleberry Finn for in-flight use:)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@22), I don’t see where you’re going, perhaps because I haven’t been all that clear about my own points to which you responded. But it seems to me that one of the points up for debate here is the question “When and in what manner is it appropriate to use the word ‘nigger’?”

    It seems that the (largely white; correct me if I’m wrong) collection of commenters here has concluded that it is okay for (white) Clemens to have used the word, because (1) he was describing the way people actually talked back then, and (2) he was making “social commentary”.

    Of course, on that second point, I’m pretty certain what is meant is that he was making “social commentary” that is acceptable by modern standards. After all, there are plenty of other works in which the word “nigger” is employed to make the social commentary that black people are inferior to white people, but this is not deemed worth defending, even if it still satisfies the “but that’s how it was back then” clause (#1, above).

    It also seems to me that at least some of the (white) people here have also concluded that it is offensive for black people to use the word “nigger”, whether in everyday speech or in song lyrics. This in spite of the fact that such speech would necessarily fit point #1, above.

    So then we’re left with the conclusion that #1 isn’t actually exonerating at all. So it must be all about the second point, that of acceptable social commentary.

    Ah, but who determines what social commentary employing the word “nigger” is acceptable, and how does racial identity play into these perceptions? You’ve made clear that some rap qualifies for you. Okay. But I guess people using that word in everyday speech doesn’t? If not, why?

    Again, I would think that there would be some attempt to understand why some black people use this word in the first place. I submit that it’s similar to the reason that some gay people embrace the word “queer”, or why we still call ourselves Lutheran. Of course, that word was initially a pejorative label, meant to identify our believes as heresy taught derived from man’s teaching, not God’s. But it’s been so long since that label stung anybody, that we don’t even realize what it used to sound like to our theological forebears. I’m told that Luther himself didn’t like the label. Should I, therefore, also shun it? Or is it okay for me to embrace it, since the label effectively means something different than it used to? And who should determine the rules about this usage — Lutherans, or non-Lutherans?

    This is the fuller context to which I was referring when weighing in on the appropriateness of such labels.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@22), I don’t see where you’re going, perhaps because I haven’t been all that clear about my own points to which you responded. But it seems to me that one of the points up for debate here is the question “When and in what manner is it appropriate to use the word ‘nigger’?”

    It seems that the (largely white; correct me if I’m wrong) collection of commenters here has concluded that it is okay for (white) Clemens to have used the word, because (1) he was describing the way people actually talked back then, and (2) he was making “social commentary”.

    Of course, on that second point, I’m pretty certain what is meant is that he was making “social commentary” that is acceptable by modern standards. After all, there are plenty of other works in which the word “nigger” is employed to make the social commentary that black people are inferior to white people, but this is not deemed worth defending, even if it still satisfies the “but that’s how it was back then” clause (#1, above).

    It also seems to me that at least some of the (white) people here have also concluded that it is offensive for black people to use the word “nigger”, whether in everyday speech or in song lyrics. This in spite of the fact that such speech would necessarily fit point #1, above.

    So then we’re left with the conclusion that #1 isn’t actually exonerating at all. So it must be all about the second point, that of acceptable social commentary.

    Ah, but who determines what social commentary employing the word “nigger” is acceptable, and how does racial identity play into these perceptions? You’ve made clear that some rap qualifies for you. Okay. But I guess people using that word in everyday speech doesn’t? If not, why?

    Again, I would think that there would be some attempt to understand why some black people use this word in the first place. I submit that it’s similar to the reason that some gay people embrace the word “queer”, or why we still call ourselves Lutheran. Of course, that word was initially a pejorative label, meant to identify our believes as heresy taught derived from man’s teaching, not God’s. But it’s been so long since that label stung anybody, that we don’t even realize what it used to sound like to our theological forebears. I’m told that Luther himself didn’t like the label. Should I, therefore, also shun it? Or is it okay for me to embrace it, since the label effectively means something different than it used to? And who should determine the rules about this usage — Lutherans, or non-Lutherans?

    This is the fuller context to which I was referring when weighing in on the appropriateness of such labels.

  • Joe

    I guess we don’t agree on the topic – I thought the topic was is it justifiable to change someone else’s work of art after it has been published/created to satisfy the felt needs of the current generation. I see that you perceived the topic as when is it okay to use a particular word.

  • Joe

    I guess we don’t agree on the topic – I thought the topic was is it justifiable to change someone else’s work of art after it has been published/created to satisfy the felt needs of the current generation. I see that you perceived the topic as when is it okay to use a particular word.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@26), you’ll note that both were suggested as discussion points by Dr. Veith: “So I wonder if those who support this bowdlerization would also support cutting out the profanity and the sex scenes from the modern novels taught in schools. … Should a work of literary art be altered away from the author’s own words and intentions, if that work could thus be made palatable to more readers?”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe (@26), you’ll note that both were suggested as discussion points by Dr. Veith: “So I wonder if those who support this bowdlerization would also support cutting out the profanity and the sex scenes from the modern novels taught in schools. … Should a work of literary art be altered away from the author’s own words and intentions, if that work could thus be made palatable to more readers?”

  • DonS

    Bryan @ 20: Thanks for clarifying. I think I get it now. Yes, historical accounts are always “revisionist” in the sense of editorial selection — the historian emphasizes what he/she considers important and de-emphasizes the rest. Both the right and the left complain of this continually.

    But, deliberately altering the text of a historical work of art to avoid offense is a cut above when it comes to revisionism, because it is blatant rather than editorial in nature. We learn from history. Our young people need to understand the problems with racism we had in our past, in the context of contemporaneous works like Huck Finn. It will give them a better perspective, both as to how we have grown as a society and to how racism was so ingrained in the social fabric, particularly of the post-war south, that it was routinely accepted even by good and otherwise entirely decent people. By sanitizing the book, an opportunity to learn and understand is lost, and we diminish ourselves and our forebears. As an alternative to blatant censorship, and the distortion of a significant historical novel, thoughtfully teach the context around the book and its historical time. Help the kids understand where we were, where we are now, and where we want to go.

  • DonS

    Bryan @ 20: Thanks for clarifying. I think I get it now. Yes, historical accounts are always “revisionist” in the sense of editorial selection — the historian emphasizes what he/she considers important and de-emphasizes the rest. Both the right and the left complain of this continually.

    But, deliberately altering the text of a historical work of art to avoid offense is a cut above when it comes to revisionism, because it is blatant rather than editorial in nature. We learn from history. Our young people need to understand the problems with racism we had in our past, in the context of contemporaneous works like Huck Finn. It will give them a better perspective, both as to how we have grown as a society and to how racism was so ingrained in the social fabric, particularly of the post-war south, that it was routinely accepted even by good and otherwise entirely decent people. By sanitizing the book, an opportunity to learn and understand is lost, and we diminish ourselves and our forebears. As an alternative to blatant censorship, and the distortion of a significant historical novel, thoughtfully teach the context around the book and its historical time. Help the kids understand where we were, where we are now, and where we want to go.

  • Dan Kempin

    I think an underlying issue here is not just the literary perspective, but the cultural evolution to the point where “I’m offended!” has become a trump card. It cannot be played by everyone, but it HAS become the most effective form of arguing to a resolution.

    I’m offended if you use that word. Therefore you must not use it.

    I’m offended if you tell me I can’t commune at your church. Therefore you must let me.

    I’m offended if you disagree with me. Therefore shut up.

    We all know how it works, but how did we get there, exactly?

    p.s. I’m happy to withdraw this statement if anyone is offended.

  • Dan Kempin

    I think an underlying issue here is not just the literary perspective, but the cultural evolution to the point where “I’m offended!” has become a trump card. It cannot be played by everyone, but it HAS become the most effective form of arguing to a resolution.

    I’m offended if you use that word. Therefore you must not use it.

    I’m offended if you tell me I can’t commune at your church. Therefore you must let me.

    I’m offended if you disagree with me. Therefore shut up.

    We all know how it works, but how did we get there, exactly?

    p.s. I’m happy to withdraw this statement if anyone is offended.

  • Jonathan

    #29
    you have precisely summed up Veith’s and other’s views on the Tucson shooting forum. No group is more ‘offended’ (or feels more self pity) than white American conservative men.

  • Jonathan

    #29
    you have precisely summed up Veith’s and other’s views on the Tucson shooting forum. No group is more ‘offended’ (or feels more self pity) than white American conservative men.

  • trotk

    One thing worth considering:

    There are plenty of public schools that will not read the book because of that single word.

    So, if you were an English teacher who valued quality literature as it was originally written, would you rather have an edited copy of the book so that your students could read a 99% accurate version for your class, or not have the students read it at all?

    I would rather have the edited version (assuming I couldn’t persuade the school board to change their policy, which is usually a safe assumption).

  • trotk

    One thing worth considering:

    There are plenty of public schools that will not read the book because of that single word.

    So, if you were an English teacher who valued quality literature as it was originally written, would you rather have an edited copy of the book so that your students could read a 99% accurate version for your class, or not have the students read it at all?

    I would rather have the edited version (assuming I couldn’t persuade the school board to change their policy, which is usually a safe assumption).

  • Rose

    #29. How did we get there?
    It’s part of the feminization of the culture.
    Lots of hurt feelings and sulking.
    It’s manipulative.

  • Rose

    #29. How did we get there?
    It’s part of the feminization of the culture.
    Lots of hurt feelings and sulking.
    It’s manipulative.

  • Joe

    tODD – I had to run out last night but wanted to put out at least some form of a response.

    As to the point you found more interesting, when I (or society) would find it acceptable to use nigger. I see now, what you were driving at with you eye toward inconsistent positions.

    You asked, “Ah, but who determines what social commentary employing the word “nigger” is acceptable, and how does racial identity play into these perceptions? You’ve made clear that some rap qualifies for you. Okay. But I guess people using that word in everyday speech doesn’t? If not, why?”

    I don’t claim to be the arbiter of acceptable language. I think that decision is left to the individual communicator. If you want to make a point, you have to decide whether the use of certain words adds or detracts from your point. The consumer of the communication will certainly factor this into his analysis of your argument/position. Thus, I don’t think there is any limit on the use of a word other than the communicators desire to persuade.

    You also said, “After all, there are plenty of other works in which the word “nigger” is employed to make the social commentary that black people are inferior to white people, but this is not deemed worth defending,”

    I disagree, it is worth defending. It is accurate historical material. John C. Calhoun’s writings and speeches arguing that slavery was a positive good (and not just a necessary evil) should be read and studied. Not because I hope for a return to this kind of thinking, but because it offers valuable insights into the thoughts and attitudes of a past version of ourselves – thoughts that ultimately helped lead us to war against each other.

    As to modern day negative social commentary, it too should be allowed (and given the modern publishing technologies available it can’t be stopped) and the market (i.e. millions of individual actors) will ultimately decide its utility.

  • Joe

    tODD – I had to run out last night but wanted to put out at least some form of a response.

    As to the point you found more interesting, when I (or society) would find it acceptable to use nigger. I see now, what you were driving at with you eye toward inconsistent positions.

    You asked, “Ah, but who determines what social commentary employing the word “nigger” is acceptable, and how does racial identity play into these perceptions? You’ve made clear that some rap qualifies for you. Okay. But I guess people using that word in everyday speech doesn’t? If not, why?”

    I don’t claim to be the arbiter of acceptable language. I think that decision is left to the individual communicator. If you want to make a point, you have to decide whether the use of certain words adds or detracts from your point. The consumer of the communication will certainly factor this into his analysis of your argument/position. Thus, I don’t think there is any limit on the use of a word other than the communicators desire to persuade.

    You also said, “After all, there are plenty of other works in which the word “nigger” is employed to make the social commentary that black people are inferior to white people, but this is not deemed worth defending,”

    I disagree, it is worth defending. It is accurate historical material. John C. Calhoun’s writings and speeches arguing that slavery was a positive good (and not just a necessary evil) should be read and studied. Not because I hope for a return to this kind of thinking, but because it offers valuable insights into the thoughts and attitudes of a past version of ourselves – thoughts that ultimately helped lead us to war against each other.

    As to modern day negative social commentary, it too should be allowed (and given the modern publishing technologies available it can’t be stopped) and the market (i.e. millions of individual actors) will ultimately decide its utility.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD is having me quite confused over whether I can call a Lutern a Lutheran anymore, especially as “evangelical” has a different meaning here in the States, and “beer drinking sacramentalists” could be Catholics, too–not to mention clumsy. And “lutefisk-and-lefse-eaters” seems pretty perjorative…..

    :^)

    (sorry, I just couldn’t resist)

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD is having me quite confused over whether I can call a Lutern a Lutheran anymore, especially as “evangelical” has a different meaning here in the States, and “beer drinking sacramentalists” could be Catholics, too–not to mention clumsy. And “lutefisk-and-lefse-eaters” seems pretty perjorative…..

    :^)

    (sorry, I just couldn’t resist)

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, here is another way to approach your question: there is a demonstrable and qualitative difference between a truly excellent and classical work of literature and the vulgar artifacts of popular culture (I assume you have in mind rap in this case) that litter our consciousness. This difference should extend to the respective implementation of these two media in our educational curricula and our own consumption. Mark Twain belongs in the classroom and is worthy of our attention; Lil’ Wayne does not and is not (most of the time, anyway). To edit the former so that he does not offend our contemporary sensibilities is to diminish his work and to jeopardize its interpretation and is, in short, an act of hubris. To edit Lil’ Wayne so that he’s suitable for radio–or, indeed, to burn all of his records in a gigantic bonfire–is irrelevant and is probably a beneficial service to humanity.

    Perhaps I should be more sensitive here. Classic works, like Twain’s (though I am actually not a fan), have succeeded in the proverbial “test of time.” They are excellent. We should not touch them. We should continue to read them. The current industrial output of our popular culture has not yet succeeded in a similar test of worthiness. So, while we probably shouldn’t have Lil’ Wayne bonfires (lest the perspectival acuities of future generations see something in his work that we have missed), we can in fact draw a qualitative distinction between Wayne’s use of the n-word (and gratuitous sexuality, dehumanizing tropes, and generally shoddy musical abilities) and Twain’s use of the same.

    This, of course, is not my only reason for objecting to a “bowlderized” version of Twain’s work–Joe and others have cited additional arguments–but it is one that I haven’t seen mentioned.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, here is another way to approach your question: there is a demonstrable and qualitative difference between a truly excellent and classical work of literature and the vulgar artifacts of popular culture (I assume you have in mind rap in this case) that litter our consciousness. This difference should extend to the respective implementation of these two media in our educational curricula and our own consumption. Mark Twain belongs in the classroom and is worthy of our attention; Lil’ Wayne does not and is not (most of the time, anyway). To edit the former so that he does not offend our contemporary sensibilities is to diminish his work and to jeopardize its interpretation and is, in short, an act of hubris. To edit Lil’ Wayne so that he’s suitable for radio–or, indeed, to burn all of his records in a gigantic bonfire–is irrelevant and is probably a beneficial service to humanity.

    Perhaps I should be more sensitive here. Classic works, like Twain’s (though I am actually not a fan), have succeeded in the proverbial “test of time.” They are excellent. We should not touch them. We should continue to read them. The current industrial output of our popular culture has not yet succeeded in a similar test of worthiness. So, while we probably shouldn’t have Lil’ Wayne bonfires (lest the perspectival acuities of future generations see something in his work that we have missed), we can in fact draw a qualitative distinction between Wayne’s use of the n-word (and gratuitous sexuality, dehumanizing tropes, and generally shoddy musical abilities) and Twain’s use of the same.

    This, of course, is not my only reason for objecting to a “bowlderized” version of Twain’s work–Joe and others have cited additional arguments–but it is one that I haven’t seen mentioned.

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  • DisturbedJacob

    Wow..I just found this and I am THOROUGHLY disgusted that someone would even think about corrupting such a classic novel. Whoever came up with this “Idea” of pulling the word “nigger” out of Huck Finn is an absurd Racist. Whoever signed off on this is one corrupted person.

  • DisturbedJacob

    Wow..I just found this and I am THOROUGHLY disgusted that someone would even think about corrupting such a classic novel. Whoever came up with this “Idea” of pulling the word “nigger” out of Huck Finn is an absurd Racist. Whoever signed off on this is one corrupted person.


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