A plan to release new editions of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the word "nigger" has been replaced with "slave" (and "injun" with "Indian") has triggered "a firestorm of criticism." The "N-word" appears 219 times in Huck Finn, and so offends many readers that it makes it impossible for them to appreciate the book, says Auburn University English professor Alan Gribben, a noted Twain scholar who's collaborating on the new editions with NewSouth Books. Is this excessive censorship, or merely a sensitive attempt to make Twain more palatable to a wider audience?
Censoring Huck Finn is a mistake: The way Huckleberry Finn "captures, in a beautiful and heart-rending story, the racial hatred and poison that marred America's early days" is what makes it a classic, says Steffani Cameron in Books on the Radio. Censoring the language dilutes the significance of the "biracial friendship" between Huck and Jim, a slave trying to reach a free state. The "soul-crushing, race-dividing epithet" gives educators an opportunity to discuss with students "how powerful" words can be.
"Whitewashing the past doesn't erase slavery"
It's more important to keep the book in classrooms: "I'm not big on censorship," says Dave Rosenthal in The Baltimore Sun. But let's face it: "This word is so weighted" and offensive that it is keeping Twain's classics out of classrooms in many schools. If removing a "politically incorrect word" makes the books more suitable for impressionable 21st-century readers, so be it. Teachers who assign the books can always "explain the self-censorship," which will keep the "tough prose" from being "completely whitewashed."
"Huckleberry Finn gets self-censored, loses 'n word'"
Huck Finn should reflect Twain's time, not ours: "Mark Twain didn't live in today's frighteningly over-the-top, PC world," says K.C. Morgan in Gear Live. We can't, and we shouldn't, "erase all reminders that this era ever existed." Huck Finn's world is a valuable "reminder of where we’ve been. Sometimes, it's ugly." But that doesn't mean we should forget, even if reading about it "makes people uncomfortable."
"Twain's Huck Finn the target of censorship — Yes, again"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- How to rescue the American family and fix the broken school system in one fell swoop
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
Subscribe to the Week