Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic novel that has been on required reading lists at schools for many years since it was published in the U.S. in 1885, but in the past decades it has been relegated to optional reading or banned altogether. The reason? Huckleberry Finn repeats an offensive word: Nigger.
Okay, so the ‘N’ word is offensive, but at one unfortunate time in history, it was a common word. Now, Twain scholar, Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books, have decided to release a censored version of Huckleberry Finn and erase the ‘N’ word as well as ‘Injun’ and replace them with ‘slave’ in the hopes of saving the classic from being shoved aside and forgotten.
How noble of Mr. Gribben.
Somehow I think if Mark Twain were alive, he would object to this censorship as would most writers. And as a writer myself, I am bothered by the thought that characters that I created could be torn apart by some guy with noble ideas about making a book politically correct. I’m bothered by a story and characters being massacred by an editing pencil, changing the meaning of the story and ruining the character development by forcing the character to say something other than what he/she would have said in that time period of American history.
Also, by censoring this classic novel, Mr. Gribben is changing history, trying to sugar coat something that, though terrible, is a part of history. And there are others that oppose this censorship. And rightly so. After massacring Huck Finn, what’s next on the list?
“The use of the ‘N’ word,” notes Jesse Sheidlower of the Oxford English Dictionary, “is one way Twain condemns the prejudicial attitudes of the South.”
Isn’t learning about slavery and discussing what happened more important than trying to change history? Is ‘slave’ even a better choice? It has a completely different meaning than ‘Injun.’ Wouldn’t it be better to have discussions on how certain people used to be treated and how we don’t want to ever go back to that? Erasing an offensive word does not erase history and how people talked about other people.
Because a couple of offensive words might make some people uncomfortable, a classic novel is being ruined. Life is not all about nice words and smiling faces. Life is all about being uncomfortable. Get used to it.
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