Censorship Hits Huck Finn

I wanted to take a break from our festive-yet-mysterious holiday teaser campaign to briefly touch on something that just popped up in my twitter feed (even though by the time I write and publish this, that twitter news will be sooooo one hour ago).

According to Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life column, NewSouth Books is publishing a new edition of Mark Twain’s seminal classic “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that removes the usage of the words nigger and injun.  (Link here)

The article attributes the idea for this edition to Alan Gribben, an alleged “Twain expert” that somehow missed the whole point of the book despite claiming that title.

SPOILER ALERT for any of you whose only association with Huckleberry Finn is from the Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Brad Renfro generation defining classic Tom and Huck – the book is a caustic criticism of racism also noted for its powerful usage of regional and ethnic dialects as a key component of the work.

Yeah, the book drops the “N” word a lot, but there’s a point to it.  And an important context that is completely lost by whitewashing the text (please forgive the semi-intentional Tom Sawyer pun).

Huckleberry Finn is an important look at a time that is far removed but clearly still culturally relevant.  But neutering the work robs it of the important debates and discussions it prompts.  I still remember the first time I read “The Adventures of Huck Finn”.  It was a while after I had read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and I was assuming a similarly light-hearted affair from a book with a near-identical title, by the same author, featuring carryover characters.  Not so much.

The first thing I was struck by was how DIFFICULT it was to read the book.  I had no idea what anyone was saying.  Twain’s masterful use of dialects made the book a real challenge to get into, and as we worked through the text in class it became clear to me just why that was so important.  As we began dissecting the subtexts and the more overt messages of the book, it became abundantly clear that Huck Finn was an entirely different beast than Tom Sawyer.  Just because they were friends, doesn’t mean they were on the same level.

I don’t want to turn this into any more of a book report than I already have, so I’ll stop here and stress the point that censoring “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” does more damage to any alleged progressive, anti-hate agenda than letting kids see words like “nigger” and “injun” in print.  It is important to let texts like this stand proud for what they are and what they have accomplished.  New generations need to confront concepts like this, and fully understand how important they still are today.

So what do YOU think?  Are the cries of censorship an overreaction?  Are we as a society becoming too concerned with coddling, pandering, and political correctness and ruining the touchstones that have made the American cultural machine what they are?  Let us know in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “Censorship Hits Huck Finn

  1. This is just another example of how these kids growing up are going to become less educated and informed than their elder counterparts. Censoring a book like Huck Finn takes away from the purpose of learning about the different styles of literature. Now, these kids are going to grow up coddled, like you mentioned, and then will not know what to do with themselves when not in a classroom setting. This is preposterous!

  2. The problem is the general pervasiveness of the so called “political correctness” virus. It is one thing to attempt a cordial if not tolerant attitude towards others but I think you nailed the matter between the eyes- it is neutering the work. The power of the word nigger, especially in the context of Jim’s relationship with Huck is showcased throughout the book. The book is actually not much of anything with out the slurs-that-were-not-yet-slurs. Sure there’s a story of adventure and friendship but the adventure is less adventurous because slavery is underplayed and the friendship is less extraordinary because slavery is underplayed. While this supposed Twain expert may think that he is somehow helping the story he is going to ruin the work itself…assuming he is an expert that has any reverence whatsoever for the works of his expertise I find the whole affair disgusting. Why doesn’t he go and make Stowe’s Uncle Tom into a white indentured servant while we are removing the power of language and context from stories about slavery? Better yet if you are going to outright change things give Heathcliff (Bronte’s not Gately’s) some zoloft? Have Hamlet call the Ghostbusters? Give Romeo an Adult Friend Finder subscription? Why not go and change the character of every story ever written? I never cared for some of the language in Mein Kampf, come to think of it–seems like a good place to start.

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