5. Huck You, Mr. Twain

Jan-14-2011 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: “So there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it, and ain’t a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” They’re still trying to sivilize Huckleberry Finn, as a new version for schools of Twain’s book suggests replacing “nigger” with “slave” and “Injun” with “Indian” so that the racists don’t use racist terms when they talk. We have a number of reactions to share with you….

*New Huckleberry Finn edition censors ‘n-word’ The Guardian

A new US edition of Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be published with a notable language alteration: all instances of the offensive racial term “nigger” are to be expunged…. Twain himself was a passionate critic of American racism, and donated money to a number of civil rights organisations including the nascent NAACP, as well as ironically critiquing prejudice in both Huckleberry Finn and the later novel Puddn’head Wilson. But controversy over his language is not new: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn came in fifth on the American Library Association’s list of the most “banned or challenged” books in the US in the 1990s (it had dropped in the 14th spot by the 2000s).

But the idea of changing the language in the novel in order to boost its popularity is still viewed with bafflement in many quarters. Dr Sarah Churchwell, senior lecturer in US literature and culture at the University of East Anglia, said the development made her “incandescent” with anger. “The fault lies with the teaching, not the book. You can’t say ‘I’ll change Dickens so it is compatible with my teaching method’. Twain’s books are not just literary documents but historical documents, and that word is totemic because it encodes all of the violence of slavery. The point of the book is that Huckleberry Finn starts out racist in a racist society, and stops being racist and leaves that society. These changes mean the book ceases to show the moral development of his character. They have no merit and are misleading to readers. The whole point of literature is to expose us to different ideas and different eras, and they won’t always be nice and benign. It’s dumbing down.”

* Thanks, But No Thanks The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog

While I do agree that New South’s version of the book will probably make the text more accessible to squeamish readers, Mr. Gribben isn’t doing them any favors.  Education isn’t about making students comfortable. In 2011, discussions about race and all of its accompanying epithets matter now more than ever. Any high school English teacher worth his or her salt can find a way to make reading the original Huckleberry Finn a valuable experience for their students. But removing the word “nigger” from the book as a way to soften the blow is ultimately unnecessary and strips Huckleberry Finn of vital context. By downplaying the dehumanizing way in which blacks were treated,  the abridged book leaves the text vulnerable to misinterpretation by those would rather believe that the slave era wasn’t as bad as people say it is.

Despite my first reading experience, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has always been one of my favorite books, particularly because of its strangely cathartic power. By exploring the misadventures of Huck and Jim,  I learned a lot about myself as a black woman. For the first time in my life, I was forced to confront my conflicted feelings about race in front of my peers. For the first time in my life, I actually heard myself say the word “nigger.” I rolled it around in my mouth and underneath my tongue. I felt the shame, the embarrassment and the loss.  And I was never the same.  Because when it was all over,  I was finally able to put a little bit of  the pain from that word behind me.

* Richard Grayson Self-Publishes ‘The Hipster Huckleberry Finn- GalleyCat

“Hipsters is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire.” A new edition of “Huckleberry Finn” replaces “nigger” with “hipster”….



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