Melissa Harris-Perry discusses the censorship of Twain.
From Publisher’s Weekly:
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.”
Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said 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.”
The crux of Gribben’s new edition is grade school teachers were completely uncomfortable sharing the book with their students. The PW coverage continues:
“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.” Gribben became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.
My immediate reaction was that this is taking the easy way out, is ignoring the truth of the history of language at the time and is diluting a piece of great literature from one of America’s greatest commenters. How are people to discuss the history of language and dehumanization and racism inherent in it if you replace “nigger” and “injun” both with the generic “slave?” However, I also believe that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer have value far beyond their use of the word “nigger,” and if that word is preventing a generation from accessing something other than Snooki’s new novel, then I understand the motivation to create a more “accessible” version for young readers who might perhaps graduate to untampered versions later in life.
Still, I lean toward facing the difficulty and leaving the original untouched. I’d love to hear what yall have to say on the subject.
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