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Does the N-word belong in 'Huck Finn'?
NewSouth Books is publishing a version of Mark Twain's classic novel, minus an offensive racial epithet. Will that improve — or weaken — the book's value?
 
Mark Twain's classic is a fixture on banned books lists, due to its repeated use of the "N-word."
Mark Twain's classic is a fixture on banned books lists, due to its repeated use of the "N-word."
Corbis

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"

 

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