When I turned on my computer this morning, the first thing I saw was this:
According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books plans to release a version of "Huck Finn" that cuts the "n" word and replaces it with "slave." The slur "injun," referring to Native Americans, will also be replaced.I was outraged by what I immediately saw as censorship in the form of political correctness. How dare anyone change an author's words? Mark Twain was anti-racist. Remember his statement: "There are many humorous things in the world, among them the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages." Huckleberry Finn offered both social commentary and a window on a time in history.
I went to Publishers Weekly (PW) where I learned that the change was proposed by Twain scholar Alan Gribben who heads the English Department at Auburn University in Alabama. The article pointed out that:
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."According to PW, the "n" word appears 219 times in Huck Finn. That took me aback. The idea that schools are banning the book and a comment on Yahoo that it's "awkward being the only black kid in class and having to read it," gave me pause. Gribben himself told PW that, while "teaching and outreach, ... he habitually replaced the word with "slave" when reading aloud."
I called an African-American friend to ask her opinion. She said she has never read the book and would not because of the "n" word.
In the space of about an hour, I went from being furious to thinking that Gribben might actually be right. The original book will still be available to whomever wants to read it.
I checked Twain quotes to see if the man himself had any thoughts on the matter. I think this one might be appropriate: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
A lightning bug may actually be what is needed in this case. Lightning runs the risk of destroying the book entirely. If by changing those two words in one edition allows more readers to enjoy the novel, I'm for the change.