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Posted at 2:30 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Why a new edition of Huckleberry Finn is wrong to remove the N-word

By Alexandra Petri

Huckleberry_Finn_book.JPG

A new edition of Huckleberry Finn is removing the N-word.

This is wrong.

The word is terrible. But it's a linchpin of this book. What makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so radical is the fact that in a time when the horror of slavery was still fresh and the specter of inequality hung over the whole country, Mark Twain was still able to use satire to show how wrong it was.

Huckleberry Finn is uniquely marvelous because it is of its time yet manages to transcend it. In spite of the limitations of vocabulary, cultural expectations, and racial stereotypes, it lays bare the inhumanity of slavery through the power of satire. To remove it from this context is to strip it of its power -- and to needlessly whitewash a period that deserves no whitewashing.

There is nothing quite parallel to this sort of change. It's not about avoiding an awkward classroom moment, or they would have removed the word "ejaculate" from Victorian novels, where everybody is always ejaculating about everything.

It would be like renaming 1984 2084, "because the current title does not reflect how pleasant life was under the Reagan administration."

This is like changing War and Peace to Peace, because war is unpleasant to remember, or removing World War I from All Quiet on the Western Front.

If we keep updating things to reflect our current sensitivities, where do we stop?

In 1984, all references to Big Brother are changed to "Great Brother" or "Mark Zuckerberg," because our whole society's great dream is to have someone watching and paying attention to us at all times.

This is like removing all the things that go wrong in Candide, because we no longer like hearing that things go badly in this best of all possible worlds.

This is like changing the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities (or maybe War and Peace, if you're asking Michael Steele) to "It was the best of times, it was the best of times/somewhat less good but still pretty okay, considering, of times." Or Hamlet's monologue to "To be, or not to be so depressed all the time."

In some cases, this sort of euphemism provokes laughter -- like any time you see The Departed or Snakes on a Plane on basic cable (I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-Friday plane!). But this is no simple absurd substitution.

This substitution creates a hollow at the book's center. It's like taking the sex and drug use out of Brave New World, or removing all "phonies" from Catcher in the Rye because Heidi Montag might take issue. This is like turning Death of a Salesman into Story of a Salesman, or Crime and Punishment into Involuntary Manslaughter and Punishment. This is like removing the cannibalism from Heart of Darkness -- or all the darkness.

Yes, the word casts a long and chilling shadow. But that's more reason to leave it there. Any school system that requires this degree of whitewashing to read Huckleberry Finn deserves a lesson in context. We don't have to read it out loud, but it's worth knowing the word is there.

By Alexandra Petri  | January 4, 2011; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  America, censorship, kids these days  
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Comments

By all means leave the word in, and let readers young and old consider its pain and the pain of the world views that produced it. What next? Ban the term "slave"? Huckleberry Finn presents the world as Twain saw and knew it--that world was the flawed precursor of our own times, with all its scars and prejudices and struggles. Everyone should have the full opportunity to understand it, be ashamed of parts of it, proud of other parts.

Posted by: Socrates2 | January 4, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

There is not a person alive today that is qualified to change the words of Mark Twain.

Posted by: AlaskanGS | January 4, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

You kind of overdid it with the analogies. Two would have sufficed.

I think it is fine to have a different version. If someone wants the original I'm sure they can get it. Whoever owns the publishing rights gets to decide.

Also makes a difference whether this is read orally in front of a whole class or silently.

Are you so sure that the 4th graders would completely understand the context and be fine with it?

Posted by: rjma1 | January 4, 2011 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely. The word is an important part of the context, and AlaskanGS is correct that there is nobody qualified to mess with Mark Twain.

But I'm curious how you feel about, say, editing words like "darky" out of the Nancy Drew books. (Which they did.)

It's a slippery slope. Where between Mark Twain and whoever wrote Nancy Drew should we draw the line?

Posted by: Itzajob | January 4, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Are you so sure that the 4th graders would completely understand the context and be fine with it?

Posted by: rjma1 |

---------------------------

That is a perfectly good reason for recommending that the book not be taught in the 4th grade (which it shouldn't be).

It's not a good reason for changing Twain's words.

Posted by: js_edit | January 4, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Since the "Cooks Source" decided it's OK to edit works they find on the Internet without permission, I guess it's also OK to edit works of dead authors without their permission.
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/compost/2010/11/the_cooks_source_editor_respon.html

But if Mark Twain were alive today, in addition to clawing at the inside of his coffin trying to get out, he'd roll over and change his name back to Samuel Clemens. This is what he wrote at the beginning of the novel (slightly edited without permission):
===
NOTICE
PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot; persons attempting to remove the n-word will be dealt with by the reincarnated me, and not on paper, if you catch my meaning.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

EXPLANATORY
IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last.

The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it some idiot might try to totally mess up this novel by removing the n-word.
THE AUTHOR
HUCKLEBERRY FINN

Posted by: divtune | January 4, 2011 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"You kind of overdid it with the analogies."

I was thinking the exact same thing.

However, I do agree with the overall of your article.

Posted by: brandonmccall | January 4, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

leave the "n" and "I" words the way their writtin. this is not a book to be read in a 4th grade class but a book to be read in its entirety to freshman high school classes. one of the best things my english teacher did for us was to only read and assign books from the top 100 books banned in america list. censorship in liturature is only cernsorship of the mind.

Posted by: adamsails47 | January 4, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Two a ya'll wrote: "You kind of overdid it with the analogies."

What? Shirley you can't be serious! "Overdid it with the analogies" is the definition of satire.

It's like saying John Stewart overdid it with the fake news stories.

It's like saying Johnny Carson overdid it with the monologues.

It's like saying Rodney Dangerfield overdid it with the "no respect" jokes.

It's like saying Mark Twain overdid it with the n-words.

Posted by: divtune | January 4, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

This is truly shocking! What next, will we tame down Hitler's atrocities and pretend slavery never existed to be more correct with the 21st century and re-write the rest of history to make it politically correct and thereby destroy its greatest purpose - to show that really bad things happen but we can also make progress and learn from our mistakes.
Our future generations are doomed if we start to sugar coat life by filling the pages of history with lies...

Posted by: VaishWords | January 4, 2011 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Better take the word out otherwise we'll have to out Mark Twain just as Thomas Wolfe has been outed for his use of the word in "Look Homeward Angel."

Posted by: liverkit | January 4, 2011 7:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Alaskan. No one alive is qualified to edit Mark Twain in any way.

Posted by: fudador | January 4, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse

As you can imagine, NewSouth Books is located in the South, Mongtomery Alabama to be exact. So re-writing not-so-nice southern history is their business.

Posted by: fudador | January 4, 2011 7:32 PM | Report abuse

As you can imagine, NewSouth Books is located in the South, Mongtomery Alabama to be exact. So re-writing not-so-nice southern history is their business.

Posted by: fudador | January 4, 2011 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Captain Honors gets fired for something that happened five years ago. Someone has the arrogance to edit (read "correct") Mark Twain's prose. When do the liberal fascists bring out the guillotine?

Posted by: qoph | January 4, 2011 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Referencing 1984, this is totally akin to doublespeak. You are changing history by re-printing this book without the original texts. I am 27 years old now, and we were not supposed to read that book either, but because I had a good English teacher, we DID read it. She made it clear that the "n-word" was a bad word and why it was such a bad word. The whole charm of Mark Twain is his ability to capture the American River-rat of the time period, INCLUDING DIALECT and language. This made my stomache turn when I heard this, and it truly makes me scared that this has been done in the past, why don't you change the bible to exclude the incest, and crucifixion and the antisemitism?

Posted by: zeccacr | January 4, 2011 8:11 PM | Report abuse

How really sad that Gribben has the gall to mess with Twain. He's supposed to be a "scholar," but scholars don't do this sort of thing. I wonder what's next. Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, there are lots of authors out there who need attending to, according to Gribben's (and his publisher's) point of view. I am truly disgusted.

Posted by: lstrauss2 | January 5, 2011 1:03 AM | Report abuse

Books are more than just stories, they are a reflection of history and society. To alter the book just to meet the PC standards oftoday is ridiculous. If teachers are unable to explain serious concepts such as slavery, which would include the N-word, then have it read in the higher grades. Don't desicrate it.

Posted by: lidiworks1 | January 5, 2011 5:19 AM | Report abuse

qoph writes:
Captain Honors gets fired for something that happened five years ago. Someone has the arrogance to edit (read "correct") Mark Twain's prose. When do the liberal fascists bring out the guillotine?

-------------------------------------------------------

This kind of behavior doesn't lie within the purview of just one political bent - in fact, the company performing this literary castration looks to be conservative. Don't trivialize something like this by trying to squeeze it into a political box.

Posted by: iamweaver | January 5, 2011 9:03 AM | Report abuse

I agree and have ever since I read the book in the 5th grade as was required reading. That was in the '60s and in a lily White Republican town outside "Chive Town" where some of the townspeople still had White suits to go cross burning in. Removing the word may as well be like try9ing to change Pap Finn from being the town drunk because it may offend the AA. But it kina remins me of his, "You call that a Guvment" monologue where he's sorter taken Huckleberry back an' run off to the Illinois side a'da River.

Personally I have nevcer met a Nig- Ni- (dammit can't print the word here for some reason) but I learned that the onlyest people thatta ever seen'em is crazy. And I thanks Mr Samual Clemens fer layin' that on me.

Posted by: glenglish | January 5, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely agreed. It's in there for a reason. And there's no reason we should just blindly shelter kids all the time. They need to know about this stuff.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | January 5, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

They also changed 'half-breed' to 'half-blood'. What wrong with Redskins?

Posted by: jimward21 | January 5, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

More ignorant PC BS.

Are people no longer allowed to think, ask questions, and learn? Do we need all books dumbed down for the masses and offensive material removed so they don't have to ask questions about history or hate?

Posted by: flonzy1 | January 5, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

The only place that it might be a good idea to make these changes would be in one of those "adapted" versions of the classics simplified for younger readers, who may be too young to understand the context of the word, or get the subtleties of the text beyond its adventure story basic plot.

If you are old enough to really read and understand the original book, you are old enough to understand the context of the word. Fourth grade is probably too young for that--we read it in seventh or eighth grade. The teacher pointed out the N word and said, "Well, that's what people said back then," but nobody was required to say the word when reading out loud. Not a bad solution for thirty years ago.

Posted by: di89 | January 5, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

This is very silly and ridiculous.. It should not be edited and changed from what the Author wrote. Please! Allow this and then we will see "editing", "corrections", and banning of a LOT of other Literature. It is fiction and stories, reading this and others is also learning the Truth about history and getting insight into some authors views on the future. Yes "1984" was not 100% accurate but some of the technology depicted are close to things that exist now. The same could be said about "The Brave New World".

Posted by: dragonrose10 | January 5, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

What will they do with "To Kill a Mockingbird?" The black protagonist, Tom Robinson, was not a slave. The n-word was part of my growing up and I never use it, nor do my wife and children. My oldest has read TKAM in school--will they ban it, too? Or go back and bleep the word out of the movie? Should we become slavery-deniers because we're uncomfortable that it happened?

Posted by: Pro-lifeForAll | January 5, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Do you know that on Magnolia plantation outside Charleston, there are dozens of "cottages"? Really! As a lifelong southern person, well-schooled in such foul matters as slavery and racism, it's quite weird seeing all of these "cottages" emerge from slave-cabin foundations.

Posted by: Meepo | January 5, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I just watched a Sylvester Stallone movie last night called 'Demolition Man' set in the future in which society had been sanitized of things offensive. Is that where we are headed? Like many, I abhor the use of this word, but I also object to the removal of the word from the book because of the context in which it was used to tell this great story. I think this act is a way of pretending these things never happened.

Posted by: oldmanwinter1 | January 5, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

You used the wrong "1984" analogy.

In "1984" history was re-written by expunging all the evidence of an inconvenient event. Newspapers would be corrected, photographs would be edited to remove "un-persons," and all evidence of any kind that didn't jibe with the current version of history was incinerated in a "memory hole." The country that had been your ally yesterday was at war with you today; it had ALWAYS been at war with you. And there was no evidence to prove otherwise.

These idiots want to do the same thing with that ugly word. Pretend it never existed, in some kind of bizarre hope that by dropping it into a memory hole, we can somehow erase all societal awareness that there once was a time when people were held as property.

As if that would be a good thing.

Another point: Twain HATED slavery. A major point of the book (despite Twain's preface that anyone trying to find a moral in it would be shot) was that Jim, although an uneducated slave, is noble, even heroic. And Huck, even though he's been taught that blacks are inferior, that it is fitting and proper to hold them as slaves, recognizes Jim's nobility, his heroism, his essential humanity. He also recognizes that the proper white society that is trying to educate him at the beginning of the book, is dishonest and corrupt. And having learned those lessons, at the end of the book, he leaves civilization for "the Territory."

Expunging "the 'n' word" from "Huckleberry Finn" dilutes the power of the book. It's a pity Twain is not alive today (he died 100 years ago this year) to confront his critics, because he'd find just the right way to vivisect these idiots with his pen. They'd wish they'd never HEARD of "Huckleberry Finn," because the whole country would be convulsed with laughter as he subjected these stupendous asses to the ridicule they so richly deserve.

Posted by: gilbertbp | January 5, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Lets be honest, Jim is a pretty crude stereotype, but to censor Mark Twain is completely idiotic. Its worth noting that this version also removed the word "injun" too.

Posted by: ozpunk | January 5, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I did not like the comparisons used in this article. As an African American, I understand that many people do not like the use of the "n" word. I also feel that we should not alter the author's manuscript. This book is about a time in history, and today's youth need to know that it was considered a negative term used when referring to black people. We also need to remember that people still use this word today and for many different reasons - even by African Americans. One of today's meanings has totally changed the meaning to mean close friends. We also have disputes over other terms such as Washington "Redskins", and we have not changed the team name although Native Americans have asked for the change. What's important is that we know our history and that this book was considered an important book for other reasons than the name of "N..." Jim.

Posted by: magooden | January 5, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Let's remove Aristotle's justification for slavery. Let's gut Luther's comments on Jews. Let's remove all the homophobic language in religious literature. Let's get a virtual lobotomy when it comes to history.

Posted by: gratianus | January 5, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Let's have a big PC party and burn all of Twain's books and burn his house in Connecticut to the ground. He obviously was a racist just like all white people. Who's with me ?????

Posted by: johnfchick1 | January 5, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

We must cut ourselves from the past in order to create a fresh, uneducated base from which we can reintroduce the mistakes that slipped from memory.

Posted by: richs91 | January 5, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Anyone remember a few years ago when a federal government employee in DC filed a discrimination claim against a manager who had used the word "niggardly" in a budget discussion? For some, the mere appearance of a word is more important than what it means, how it's used, or what message it's trying to convey. In other words, some people are just idiots. After the "n" word is removed from HF, they will turn their attention to other pressing matters, like changing the name of the African country Niger to something less offensive.

Posted by: Serendip | January 5, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

@rjma1

oh please. What fourth grade class is going to read Huckleberry Finn? People read it in high school, where they, you know, can actually have a real discussion about it.

Posted by: megantron | January 5, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree that censoring Huck Finn in this way is just wrong. Especially coming from a professor at a southern university, this attempt to whitewash history strikes me as extremely perverse. If we are supposed to learn lessons from history, shouldn't we be responsible not to whitewash that history?

And that's really what this revision of Huck Finn is: whitewashing. It's making Huck Finn more palatable for a white audience who has grown uncomfortable with the sharp language of the book. However, if we cannot use a book like Huck Finn to show how wrong slavery was, to show how language was part of the dehumanization that went along with slavery, and to teach why it is important to distance ourselves from such language today, then history is lost to us.

Some people seem to prefer to live in a fantasy world where racism not only does not exist today, but never existed. Striking language from a book like this is not doing anyone a service. It's hiding history and opening the likelihood that students exposed to the book get the wrong messages from it.

Twain, who was excoriating the awful practice of slavery and the mentality and language behind it, is now being censored by those who wish to avoid confronting, recognizing, and condemning such language, but if an education is not supposed to accomplish these goals of making people more aware of the world around them and learning to identify and condemn evils, then we might as well not even bother teaching our kids anything. Seeing the humanities dead entirely would almost be preferable to this "humanities lite" that the prattling censors want to inflict on us.

Posted by: blert | January 5, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Context is extremely important and to change the original manuscript is absolutely wrong. Learning about the context in which the book was written is part of the learning process on the whole. To change the word does a disservice to both the author and the reader.

Posted by: JLF03 | January 5, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse

gilbertbp: Exactly right about correcting the 1984 reference. For me the work inside the Ministry of Truth was the most disturbing part of the book. Unfortunately, I think that slippery slope is already underfoot and is driven by the general dumbing down of our young people. I met a kid the other day who could quote line for line an episode of Family Guy, but could not quote the Preamble to the US Constitution. And we wonder why they don't think voting is important.

"Scholars" also proposed EBONICS as a language. Remember that nonsense?

Posted by: Margaret19 | January 5, 2011 1:44 PM | Report abuse

We could rewrite all books like this and change the wording in speeches from our politicians of the 1860's or 1950's for that matter. Just think how many Americans who could find jobs in the new Federal Department of Rewriting History. I wonder if anyone like say, George Orwell, ever thought of that?

Posted by: koppo55 | January 5, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Divtune, your comment was spot on, not to mention great satire itself. Mark Twain would have considered you a worthy potential successor--once he got over his disgust at today's spineless followers of political correctness.

Posted by: Cathy3 | January 5, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

It is the DEFINITIVE example of abolitionism. Huck Finn can only see Jim in one way - the way he's been taught from his very earliest memories by the people in the town - but as he travels with Jim down the River, he says himself that he realizes that Jim is a person just like him.

(By the way, there was a supposed "follow-up" to the book written in the '70s, I believe, and it ENTIRELY missed that very subtle point. Ye holy moly.)

THAT is supposed to be the entire message of a book I am very proud to own, in its ORIGINAL form. Maybe Harriet Beecher Stowe proved it more baldly in her "Uncle Tom's Cabin", but the subtlty and brilliance of this book changed more than a few minds back in the day and has continued to do so. To change it to some pastel version because somebody who HASN'T READ IT has been "shocked" by the use of an admittedly jarring word is ridiculous.

I think Montgomery, AL, wants to PR its image by (deliberate choice of word here) whitewashing the book. I also agree with Alaskan - Twain was his own classification.

Posted by: JustSaying1945 | January 5, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

If you change the words in the book, then remove Mark Twain's name as the author. Then expect the lawsuit for plagerism.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | January 5, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

If removing the "n" word will get more people to read Mark Twain, so be it. It is one of the books most frequently banned from school libraries, and that's a shame. Getting the book on library shelves is more important than preserving this powerful, well chosen but most painful word.

Posted by: catsndogs | January 5, 2011 2:13 PM | Report abuse

If removing the "n" word will get more people to read Mark Twain, so be it. It is one of the books most frequently banned from school libraries, and that's a shame. Getting the book on library shelves is more important than preserving this powerful, well chosen but most painful word.

Posted by: catsndogs | January 5, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

If Alan Gribben truly wanted to bring the language of Huckleberry Finn up to date, he would replaced the N-word with "M*thah*uckah."

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | January 5, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I am very pleased and happy to read all of the comments that do see the additional possiblities that letting this sort of editing occur could lead to. Yes it does seem a prelude to allowing ALL history (not just U.S.A. history) be changed and altered and remove some of the failures, mistakes, wrong decisions from the records. That would be a VERY WRONG decision since the future generations will not LEARN from HISTORY past and may very well make the mistakes, wrong decsions, and fail to reach the ultimate GOAL of all. "PEACE and GOOD WILL"
In some respects fitting with "1984" "Brave New World" live where the government / politicians control human life and existance.

Posted by: dragonrose10 | January 5, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

This would not be the first "Golden Books" revision to the classic literature of Mark Twain, or any of a number of great authors.
It should be acknowledged to be a revision, and then let the marketplace decide if it will sell.
Teaching Twain in our schools should occur when students are sufficiently versed in our history to understand the language and attitudes of the 19th century. These are not books for 8-10 year olds, either then or now.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | January 5, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Serendip - Is it possible that you're referring to D.C. mayor Anthony Williams' aide David Howard? He resigned after the flap arose over his use of "niggardly" in a budget discussion, but was later offered the job back. There weren't any lawsuits or discrimination claims involved.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/williams/williams020499.htm

Posted by: bobsewell | January 5, 2011 3:16 PM | Report abuse

What's next, you ask?

Next, likely within ten years, the word "homosexual" will become unacceptable and any and all publications that use that word will have to be republished and replace that word with "gay".

I still don's understand why the word "homosexual" is so offensive, but if we continue on this overly-sensitive PC course, mark my words this will happen.

Posted by: RambleOn | January 5, 2011 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I understand that some school districts want to ban Donald Duck and Yogi Bear because they don't wear pants. We must not send the wrong message to our children. Bears and ducks should not be seen half-nude in public.

Posted by: CubsFan | January 5, 2011 5:40 PM | Report abuse

As an English teacher who teaches Huck Finn and as a novelist myself, I feel that this is absolutely unacceptable on all levels. The novel is important in American literature because it paints such an accurate and scathing portrait of the horrors of racism and slavery before the Civil War. To gloss over this is an insult to the people who suffered through slavery and the people who fought and died to end it.

I went into more depth on the topic of why it needs to stay in the classroom in its original form here: http://saraegoodman.blogspot.com/2011/01/disney-fication-of-huck-finn-american.html

Posted by: saragood | January 5, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

I think it's pathetic that the media reports on this issue all say "N-word" over and over again, apparently out of fear of using the real word (and I know the blog software won't let me use it here). It's an insult to the intelligence, and it's a sad commentary on American society when people are afraid to use a word in a debate ABOUT THAT VERY WORD. The mere fact of the word is not, by itself, offensive when it's being used in a totally neutral manner such as this debate.

When I was in college I took a course on the history of the civil rights movement (this was 1993, I believe). Julian Bond was the professor. Excellent course, one of the best courses I ever took. Mr. Bond addressed the issue of the particular word in question and said that he respects that nowadays that word is so taboo that it is a major shock to people when it is used by anyone other than rappers, but that he would use it in class because to sanitize the racism that the civil rights activists faced would be to dishonor them (and, of course, he was centrally involved in the activism). I always thought that his statement made so much sense. You can't whitewash history (no pun intended). Should we next not talk about the Holocaust?

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 5, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

If the "n word" is removed from the work of a white author, but not removed from the works of black authors (such as writers of "rap" and "hip hop" music), then the removal of the n word will be an act of racial discrimination against a white author. Such a racist act is entirely unacceptable.

Removing the n word is fine--as long as it is simultaneously removed from EVERY work that contains it; otherwise, it must remain in every work that contains it, and new works must be allowed to contain it--regardless of the race of a work's author. "Freedom and justice for all" does not mean freedom and justice for some. Be forewarned: If this racist act occurs, then the truth about the values of the USA will clearly be known and will be used to lawful advantage by those who have been deeply offended by this racist act.

Further, if the n word and similar derogatory phrases are in fact removed from all works, then the phrase "white trash" will similarly need to be removed from all works, if the USA expects to continue to have its values taken seriously.

Finally, all of this potential removal is potential censorship that is contrary to the established values of the USA.

Posted by: OneMoreConcernedUSCitizen | January 5, 2011 7:08 PM | Report abuse

No problem. You say this is an edition. Therefore, there are other editions still out there. Buy those. And let your children read them. Not the sanitized bushwa.

Posted by: bucinka8 | January 5, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

They are changing the words they don't like because they are afraid to do what they really want to. Burn the books as Adulf Hitler did.

The N word is the most disgusting word I know of, but it is part of history. We need to remember where that word came from and why people find it so disgusting. you change books that it is used in, this word will acquire new meaning(which might not be a bad thing) without any remberance of where it came from.

Look at the word gay. That word has gone through many changes in its meaning. Currently it is assocated with a persons sexual preference. But we can still find all the different use's of this word through out history. We should be able to track the usage of the N word in the same way.

Posted by: LiberalBasher | January 5, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Let's take the N-Word out of all rap songs and comedy routines. That would leave a lot of holes and some welcome silence on the airwaves.

Posted by: dfoster1 | January 5, 2011 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Ban Censorship!!!

Posted by: jaxnc06 | January 5, 2011 8:54 PM | Report abuse


Fahrenheit 451.

Posted by: screwjob23 | January 5, 2011 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Since words have been excised from this Huck Finn, is it still the work of Mark Twain? When an editor decides to change the timber of a masterpiece to suit his or her own sensibilities, it does injury not only to the original author but to those who would read it as well. If someone thinks that the five opening notes to the Beethoven Fifth are too loud, will someone rewrite those too? Political correctness run amok. The fruits of modern liberalism and progressive crockery.

Posted by: Almazar80 | January 5, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if the PC imbeciles behind this rewrite realize Twain was writing about the reality of his day or do they think Twain didn't like blacks. Very strange even by PC standards. PC has become so insanely out of control that some people who were PC are now ticked off about this mind rotting revisionist nonsense. Whats next, William Faulkner? Faulkner is great but he is not as easy a read as most well known authors. Since PC imbeciles are incaapable of following his plots, Faulkner may be spared. Exterminate PC!

Posted by: jm125 | January 5, 2011 10:54 PM | Report abuse

I really don't see this as a slippery slope. While some small steps lead to atrocities, some small steps are atrocities and this is one of them. It is as much a wrong to take liberty with changing the words of a great author as it would be to change the selection of color or brush strokes of a great painter. Parents need to insist that schools and libraries reject this practice of appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Posted by: MdLaw | January 5, 2011 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I, even though I am of mixed ethnic minority descent and my people have been, respectively, on both sides, called slurs like "dago", "gook", etc., would be the first to argue that a student reading Huck Finn aloud in class, since they are understood in that situation by discerning people to not be using the word "n i g g e r" in an insulting context toward black people, should read the text as it is.
And, furthermore, for another example, that if a sociology professor, or a student in said collegiate sociology class, were discussing the subject of racism, bigotry, and the use of racial slurs, should be able to say, out loud in class in the context of an academic discussion, a sentence such as "when in the past people have been called words such as 'n i g g e r', 's p i c', 'g o o k', 'c h i n k', etc., it has had a result which imbrues our society and we should learn about one another so as to make the usage of such slurs less likely or even non-existent in our world", a complaint about their saying such a word in the classroom should not arise because any listener with a clue would realize the context in which they said it was academic discussion, not the usage of it as a slur aimed at someone. Having to say things like "n-word" infantilizes our discourse when serious issues are being talked about academically.

Posted by: SCOTSGUARDS | January 5, 2011 11:24 PM | Report abuse

What's next? Which author does Alan Gribben believe should be next on the list? Does he think the DVD set of the television show Tour of Duty should be re-voiced because many of the characters use a variety of ethnic slurs throughout the three years of that program's run on television in historically accurate situations and contexts?

Posted by: SCOTSGUARDS | January 5, 2011 11:32 PM | Report abuse

You just can't work with that word hanging over your head if you're a teacher.
For 2011, "slave" works. It allows the kids to hear the story without the distraction. Someday the kids will be mad they read a censored version. They'll get over it. And they'll change all the books back in another 20 years.

Posted by: kls1 | January 6, 2011 12:42 AM | Report abuse

This isn't a slippery slope.

This is wholesale destruction of art.

Reminds me of when authorities painted over nudity when it offended them.

If you clean up art, you're missing the point and actually changing the work. If the consumer isn't sophisticated enough to appreciate the piece of work, maybe they should be looking for a piece they can appreciate.

This isn't a book for younger children, anyway.

Posted by: postfan1 | January 6, 2011 12:51 AM | Report abuse

The idea of editing the work of Mark Twain is the most disgusting example of the depravity of political correctness that I have heard in at least three or four days.

Posted by: Warro | January 6, 2011 1:18 AM | Report abuse

Concur.
Use as many analogies as you like. It's your piece and you have to sign it.

Telling you to use fewer or different analogies is like telling an artist, "I like the tree next to the stream, but could you put more leaves on it?"

NO! You can't have more leaves on the tree. It's supposed to have as many leaves as it has and not one more. Pay attention! Try to keep up!

When the work is done, it goes up on the wall and the audience's responsibility (yes, responsibility) is to appreciate it as it is.

Thank you for your effort and your insight.

I never appreciated Mark Twain so much as after I sneaked (snuk?) under the rope and sat at his desk in the newspaper office in Virginia City during Nevada's centennial. I wouldn't change a word in any of his books.

Posted by: escribe | January 6, 2011 3:52 AM | Report abuse

Also, Twain was a leading spokesman for the new literary school of Realism. He mocked the romantic diction of Cooper's novels. Twain and Howell wanted to write novels that emphasized verisimilitude. Characters should talk the way real people talk in the time and setting of the story. Thus the N word and dialect of Huck Finn.

Posted by: nvlheum | January 6, 2011 4:47 AM | Report abuse

The liberial PC police rip a classic piece of American literature apart for the use of the N-word.

Yet the same people have no problem, rewording Grammy awards to "Artist" that use the same word 30 times in a rap song.\

Posted by: Defund_NPR | January 6, 2011 4:56 AM | Report abuse

This goes to show that the progressives and the social conservatives are essentially the same people.

Both have an agenda to control you. They don't want to 'train' you how to respond to parts of the world they don't like, they want to remove that part of the world, then remove any memory of it ever existing.

For both, history is not 'what happened', but what they can convince you happened. If all children are properly initialized they will no longer have to punish adults who aren't thinking right.

It's amazing how much unbelief is needed to make belief possible.

No one is so avidly willing to oppress than those who are Absolutely Certain they are the only possessors of the Absolute Truth

Posted by: eezmamata | January 6, 2011 5:41 AM | Report abuse

Don't tamper with it; shelve it. We need it as much as we need The Merchant of Venice.

No? How about introducing The Monk into high school classes? We'll just explain the historical context.

Posted by: FarnazMansouri2 | January 6, 2011 7:10 AM | Report abuse

First off, this is the second time I've posted, since I actually used the full word n-gg-r in my first post and it was rejected.

Here's the irony: In an article about censorship, the actual full word n-gg-r is censored. When VP Cheney or GW Bush cursed, the WP felt it necessary to the story to use the full curse word, but here, all they can say is the "n-word" (which isn't even a curse word) when talking about whether the "n-word" should be left in the book!How stupid is that?

Posted by: ldf1 | January 6, 2011 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Several commenters pointed out the irony that we can't type the long form of the n-word in this discussion. Although I see their point, I think I have a reasonable reply.

The n-words in Mark Twain's novels have been around for over a hundred years, and accurately reflect the speech and racism of the past. Removing them sanitizes history.

Writing the long form n-word today is perceived as racist, regardless of the context. It is disrespectful towards African Americans.

Like energy, the law of n-words states that they may not be created, nor destroyed. We sure don't need any new ones today.

But at least we can still say "sweetcakes", although not when referring to Ms. Petri.

And we sure miss you, George Carlin!

Posted by: divtune | January 6, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Among inner city kids the N word is used so often that it has lost all meaning. The N word is commonly used in rap music. It is worthwhile to teach young the way this slur was really used in Twain's day.

Posted by: Doctor_Evil | January 6, 2011 11:20 PM | Report abuse

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