Saving or Censoring Huck Finn?

The announcement made last week that Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be published in a new version that removes the “N” word is a radical departure from the thought of textual purists and from academic tradition, but Twain scholar Alan Gribben insists his decision to revoke the word from the book is not an attempt to erase racial issues, but rather an effort to bring the book, which has long been disappearing from grade school curricula, back into the hands of children and a general readers reluctant to read the book as it stands.

Although this decision may cause controversy in some circles, Gribben, who has headed the English department at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama for nearly 20 years, was sought out by teachers during talks he gave around the state on Twain’s other classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The teachers told him they wanted to teach Twain’s novels in class but felt inhibited by the offensive word. They deemed the book unacceptable for the 21st century classroom.

Gribben, who often replaced the word with “slave” himself when reading the book aloud, agreed that there should be an alternative for grade school students, so he teamed up with publisher NewSouth to create that option. The new edition due out in February will also include Tom Sawyer in the volume. What it won’t have is the 219 times the “N” word appeared in the original text.

What do you think? Should an American classic never be altered for any reason? Does the new version change the author’s intent? Or is this a long overdue and necessary change to an extremely offensive and incredibly hurtful word?

(Photo: Wikipedia)

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  1. This guy has some nerve messing with a piece of work that doesn’t belong to him. Its like changing Mona Lisas hairstyle to update the painting. Censorship by another lib academic that hasn’t spent a day in the real world.

  2. Of course the “N” word should be omitted ! By omitting the “N” word, it does not in any way alter the “Classic” ~ If the color of the person’s skin and/or the Race of the person is of paramount importance, then there are other ways to make that known to the reader…such as “of African Heritage,
    or a “person of color”. Ditto for that Anti-Semitic P.O.S. called “The Merchant of Venice”. If that’s a classic, so should Mad Magazine, be a classic. The “N” word and the “K” word have no business being in public school usage. IF the powers that be, have their way, and do not alter such hurtful & hateful usage of those TWO words
    that’s okay, but….. then take those words out of the public school system, or have school editions edited. There is allready enough HATE in America.

  3. i would normally never support any form of censorship but… i would rather have a name (that we all agree is ugly and hateful) removed from a classic piece of grade school literature, therefore allowing it to once again be part of the school curriculum. what’s the point of being a classic if impressionable young readers are never afforded the opportunity of being exposed to it?

  4. This is as dumb as those schools who have “banned” the book.

    Rather, this can allow for an honest discussion of race, racial identity and racial language.

    Instead, we get SLAVE. Which doesn’t really make sense since it’s not interchangeable with the dreaded “N-word.”

    the prof is sickened by this, teachers who are scared to teach, and students feel inhibited by their own history.

    (This reminds me of how in college/grad school the issue of how women were portrayed in film and literature was discussed- rarely was a “ban” the answer. For most, the issue was how best to discuss these issues. Sadly, here, a ban is the easy way out.)

  5. As an artist I generally do not like censorship but as a mother of non- white children I’m with Sandy on this one.

    If someone can convince me that we need more hateful words out there in the world then maybe I would change my tune.

    How many that support keeping the ‘N’ word in the book would stand in the street and protest holding signs that read (with the whole ‘n’ word on the sign) “We want the word n****r put back in Huck Finn”??????????

  6. Words are just words. Sure they can hurt, but you give them more power if you teach your kids that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt…. EXCEPT the N-word.”

    Makes not sense. And as a father of a black boy (not sure why this should matter, but I guess it does to you) I do not want him reading a white-washed version of history. Which is why, I told him that Rosa Parks was not just “some tired lady” who didn’t want to give up her seat, but an NAACP activist who hoped to rid the world of segregation.

    Likewise here, like it or not, Black folks- those decedents of slaves- were called the n-word, moreover, it was used in the literature of the day. And even in some of the greatest literature of all time. And like the horror of segregation, jim crow, fire hoses and dogs, it’s a time that is gone. But it was here. You cannot and should not hide or shield Black children (and all children, really) from this.

    Further, it proves that folks can change- so much that this Country elected a Black man as President— which has MORE POWER, and is MORE IMPRESSIVE when you consider where we- as Black folks and as Americans- have come from.

    That some wish to wipe a word away, and take some of this history away is, well, small.

  7. I don’t think the word should be removed from classic literature, but I do think that children should be old enough and mature enough to read literature with offensive words and content.

    So do I think that an elementary school class should read Twain out loud using the “n” word? No. at that age, children cannot grasp the baggage that comes with that word.

    I also think that when studied, the teacher should be quite sensitive and give a thorough explanation and study of the time and racism.

    It is just a word, but words DO have power. It’s not a word used in my home or, I hope, ever comes out of my childrens’ mouths.

    Knowing about Black history, my girls history, is important, no matter how hard it is to hear. But there must by age-appropriate lessons taught. Have I told my 7-year-old that Black people were slaves, were not allowed to drink from water fountains with White kids and that their father and I couldn’t have gotten married 40 years ago? Yes. Have I told her about lynchings and explained slavery in detail? No. When she is old enough to truly understand it, then she will learn.

  8. You all, of course, realize this book was published in 1885 right? You think 125 years later, that our society hasn’t evoled enough where we can have an open an honest discussion about racism? Censorship is never the right course. This is the same nonsense that has no winners in a school competition. Wait until your completely unprepared for reality kids enter the real world where all of these evils do exist. What a shocker!

  9. I like Twain. The first pieces I looked at over at projectguttenburg were twain works. I find his life interesting (unsuccessful business ventures, survived his wife and several children, politics, etc.)

    All that being said, there are times when subject matter isn’t appropriate for the classroom. I remember being uncomfortable reading passages aloud in school 20+ years ago. And if our world has changed to the point where it’s no longer acceptable to teach, I can understand that.

    If that’s the case, don’t teach it. Find something else from the nearly infinite universe of literature that’s age appropriate. Something that doesn’t need to be censored. Yes, that means some teachers/boards will need to do some research and expand their comfort zone.

    Maybe, just maybe, some stuff is just too good for school. I feel that’s the case with Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and other good books that most curriculum mistreat and censor anyway.

  10. The book is used in High School. That’s old enough. I don’t think anyone is looking at teaching Huck to elementary kids.

    Teachers/boards need to move out of their “comfort zones” but students should be pandered to and taught only books that will what? Make them feel good? C’mon, being uncomfortable is important in some classes, in the hands of a good teacher this can lead to a better understanding.

    Sadly, too many kids (not just Black, but MANY kid) is brought up having such shame towards their “peoples” own story that no matter what, they are going to feel uncomfortable- but methinks that has more to do with how parents raise kids, than whether or not their read a certain book.

  11. If one can’t handle the word ‘nigger’ don’t read the book. But to change the word to something more sanitized is crazy.

  12. Georgette hit the nail on the head here. Instead of censorship, introduce the book to an age-appropriate group. I believe I was in 7th or 8th grade when my class was assigned this book. I enjoyed it immensely and our instructor taught us about the book from an historical perspective.

    I disagree with those who say that by removing (or sanitizing) the offensive word, you do not alter the story. Of course you alter the story! Mark Twain was famous for saying that the difference between the right word and the “almost” right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    This word, as ugly as it is, was common usage in 1885 and is part of our history. What right do you have anyway, to alter an author’s work?

    It’s a short step to the banning and/or burning of books we don’t like.

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