Husck Finn censored

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: “******.”

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.”

Oh, dear. I think this is more a case of dumbing-down and laziness rather than political correctness. Teaching Mark Twain and the use of the “n-word” in context will take a lot of effort from teachers and the administration will probably have to have to deal with protests.
The substitution of “slave” for the dreaded “N-word” is especially stupid. All African-Americans in Twain’s time (and for a long time afterwards) were “N-----s” whether slave or free.

What next? Purging history books of “disturbing” images of slave auctions?

I hate to be so pedantic… but I fixed a bit of an issue I had with your verbiage.

However I agree with your overall point. If as a teacher you can’t properly educate your students on the way a book is written and the context of it then you have no business teaching.

I hate… HATE the n-word or any word that so blatantly ridicules an entire race of people. But I also have the intelligence to understand that for the sake of telling a story it’s perfectly fine.

This kind of “creative editing” for the sake of political correctness may be done with good intentions but really all it does is enable mere words to have way more power over us than they should. Words mean nothing without the intent of the person speaking them. If someone is offended simply by hearing a word without knowing the context around it then that’s clearly a lack of education on their part.

I’m not so sure that this is a bad idea. The offensive words are not what made the books great. They will remain great without those words. And I can’t help be think that those two words would be a distraction at that age. Wouldn’t grade school children focus more on the naughty word being used, rather than learning about the pain of its historical context. The latter seems more of a lesson for teenagers.

If changing the words for school children will make the books more accessible to grade school children, then why not? Its not as the original works won’t be available to adults, or even to those in high school.

As a parent, I wouldn’t want my child to be taught any “watered down” version of any of the classics. If the teacher thinks the words used by the author (Twain in this instance) would be too much for the age of his students or too much of a distraction, then don’t pick that book. Find another more appropriate subject matter to teach until the teacher feels his/her students are capable of handling ALL the language used by the author, as the author carefully chose those particular words to convey his message.

What is most interesting to me about censoring Mark Twain for the use of an offensive word, and likewise Rudyard Kipling in “How the Leopard Got His Spots” is that in both cases the authors were using the vocabulary of their own time to make a point exactly opposite of what people accuse them of. (Sorry, that sentence was not a good one. I will try again)

People who want to remove the offensive word from Mark Twain apparently do not realize that Mark Twain himself was deeply offended by and opposed to the meaning behind the use of that derogatory term. Although “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is widely credited with starting the Civil War, I am certain that Huck’s sudden realization that the (insert bad word here) Jim is just as human as he is did contribute to other people realizing the same thing. Huck made me realize- not that people of other races could be human, because I was brought up understanding that, but that people could be human even if they were brought up to be bigots. And that realization is just as important for improved human relations.

In “How the Leopard Got His Spots” although the Ethopian in the story refers to himself with a word that is now not acceptable, his character in the story is sophisticated, even urbane, intelligent, generous to inferiors, inventive. In other words, the word clearly does not mean the same thing to Kipling as it does to modern day objectors.

I truly believe that any English teacher who does not want to teach the book because of that word should not be teaching English at all, because obviously he or she cannot read.

Bowdlerization! Comstockery!

When I was a child, I read all sorts of works which adults other than my parents thought I should not (1984 when I was 11, In Cold Blood at 13, and so on). I’d left the children’s section of the library behind when I was 10. I don’t like Reader’s Digest Books, either–but at least with those, you know you’re not getting the real thing.

Of course, I also think part of the problem is school boards so utterly lacking in courage that they will not defend the use of a book like Huckleberry Finn in a literature class.

Censorship, no matter how noble the intention behind it, is a double-plus ungood idea.

It’s more the issue of whitewashing. You have to look at Huck Finn in the context of the time it took place (slavery, along with wide spread belief of “inferiority of colored people”).

It’s like teaching WWII but skipping the holocaust. The racial language is key to understanding the context and the characters, which is what I hope they’re tying to do in an english class.

My thoughts exactly. Good Show.

OTOH, James J. Kilpatrick (may he rest in peace!) thought that Huck Finn should NOT be taught to young children because they would not be mature enough to appreciate Twain’s “ironies.” Don’t know if I necessarily agree with that but it is ceratinly a thought-provoking idea.

Once again, though, Good Show. :thumbsup:

AS a teacher, I will NOT use this new version

The dumbing down continues…

I am glad my boys read the real versions.

Well, if it’s the price for preserving the original version of the book, then maybe they should wait to have students read until later. I didn’t have to read it for school until sophomore year of high school. I would rather they teach the actual book in junior high or high school than an edited version earlier in grade school.

What about all the other books since Twain’s in which that word is used? Herman Wouk used it in Winds of War and War and Remembrance (in the mouth of Adolf Hitler). Tom Clancy used it (in the mouths of some of his bad-guy characters). Are we going to have people going through these books and putting out new editions with bowdlerized language?

Bah! Humbug!

(Or is that now an unacceptable word?)



I am trying to imagine what they have replace the “i” word with - “North American Aboriginal Joe” just lacks a certain “oomph.” :shrug:

Hi all.
A very interesting topic.
I wonder what that professor would do if he was faced with Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘The N****er of the Narcissus’?
Or how does he feel about the many books and movies that feature African-American characters who use the “N” word freely?
Indeed, is the use of this word wrong in the movie ‘Blazing Saddles’?
At the end of the day, he should not be so lazy. He should use his imagination to teach historical context.
God Bless,

Good point.

I don’t know if I woulfd teach the Revised Version to small kids.

I agree it is better that Teachers teach the Book later in School to older children.

BUT, if one MUST teach it to younger children, I’d rather the “Unrevised” question be taught. As long as Teachers make clear the CONTEXT in which the Word is used in the Book and the Hideousness of it is Emphasized; AND Twain’s own True Feelings on the Subject are made known, I would not oppose the Book being taught.

Hi Folks:

Censoring a historical book because of the language it contains is always a bad idea. I might refer people to another more recent work, the highly acclaimed African American author Alex Haley’s Roots, which became an international sensation after it was popularized into a TV miniseries in the 1970s. Several blogs recently noted the presence of this alleged word (which is really just a modern descendant of the Latin, niger, meaning “black”) throughout this highly acclaimed work. What should we do, then? Censor it as well?

A Google books search shows the ubiquity of this word throughout the text…it is in literally thousands of places in Haley’s masterpiece. I attempted to link to such a search, but the filters here would not permit me (sigh…it’s about context, people!). Anyway, if you want to see what happens for yourself, just go to Google Books and search the volume for the offending word here:

I think any effort to censor this (or any other) text will cause more problems than it solves.


I can’t imagine teaching Huck Finn below the high school age, there is just too much there for those under that age. I do not, as a rule, like it when people mess around with an author’s work. I don’t even like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. If Mr. Bellamy would have wanted it in the pledge, he would have put it in the pledge.

This thread reminded me that the original Sambo’s restaurant is still open. Seriously. I wonder if it’ll ever be re-franchised:

(Sorry, continue with the tread.)

They explain the name by saying that it’s a combination of his first name with his business partner’s last name - which is believable enough (though there is an equal chance that that’s just what people called him, even without realizing that his name was Samuel).

Also, they seem to have lost the logo - I noticed that the photos of the old buildings are cropped really close to the edges, so as to omit the street sign. :smiley:

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