If it’s Tuesday, it must be ignorance and folly day at Memeorandum,
Upcoming NewSouth ‘Huck Finn’ Eliminates the ‘N’ Word
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said [Twain scholar Alan] Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
Now I can’t wait to see what Mr. Gribben will come up with the Carolinian play ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, first published in 1633.
To paraphrase Mr. Gribben, “sex matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century”. After Gribben’s done with it, it may get renamed to “Too Bad She’s a Sex Worker”, but that title deplores the choice of occupation, which is not conductive to the worker’s self-esteem.
…Sawyer or Finn, both books are set in a time period when racial tensions were a central part of life and are based, to a large degree, on the racially prejudices that Twain himself encountered as a child growing up in Missouri. This is especially true of Huckleberry Finn where, despite the fact that “the n-word” appears 219 times, it’s fairly obvious that Twain is condemning racial prejudice and that one of the central themes of the book is the process by which Huck discovers that the things he’d been taught by society by blacks were wrong, and that his companion him was, in fact, an heroic figure.Twain’s use of a word that, even in his time, was meant to be insulting and demeaning, was deliberate and removing it because of “sensitivities” seems to me to detract significantly from the overall power of the novel.