It just makes me sad

I’m sure most of you are already aware that a new edition of Huckleberry Finn is out, in which the word “Nigger” is replaced by “slave.”  The producer of this new edition, Alan Gribben (a professor of English), argues that the substitution will ensure the book does not drop off of more school reading lists and will spare the reader the unpleasantness of repeatedly reading a racial slur.

I will not go on and on here, but I feel that as a teacher and a writer I have to voice an objection to the idea of editing out the parts of our cultural heritage we find unpalatable (not, of course, that we’ve hesitated to do so in the past).

Huck Finn is, ultimately, an indictment of slavery, and we should read it as the author wrote it.  The idea that we might need to “spare” teachers the effort of placing the novel in cultural and historical context for their students or excuse them from having a meaningful discussion about race relations in US history is just sad.  The idea that editors can (or should) sweep in and alter an author’s text to fit with current notions of politically correct behavior is disturbing — almost as much as the idea that such literature should be banned in the first place.

4 thoughts on “It just makes me sad

  1. Rick Zawadzki

    Agreed. I think it’s pathetic that we’re now censoring historical works of fiction. Twain himself once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” All so parents don’t have to explain to their children the story in context of the time.

  2. EF Kelley

    The trouble is that they’re trying to teach this to grade schoolers. I recall having this part of my reading at 5th grade. Save the unpleasant truths for 8th and 9th grade.

    I think that so long as there’s a huge sign saying ‘THIS BOOK HAS BEEN ALTERED’ you could get away with it. Still, it makes me die a little bit inside.

    1. mirandasuri

      I actually politely disagree that’s a problem. 5th grade is pretty old (and these day, pretty mature – that’s when they do sex ed, for instance) – certainly old enough to grasp and grapple with basic facts about the history of race relations in the US. I do agree that, if textual alterations are going to be made, there should be a disclaimer, but, damn…it really just shouldn’t be done.

  3. John Murphy

    Ah, the children of Bowdler are many, aren’t they? (And yet none of them seem to know how they were conceived…) It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last time — just wait until some dainty soul decides that e-readers offer the perfect platform for automagically making literature “child-safe”! There’s legal precedent for that sort of thing as an allowable copyright exception, too.

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