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.