New Year and a more committed Blog: Plus some words about Huckleberry Finn

Some more words after the jump – good ones I promise…

Yes the blog is back, yes I promise to deliver more great content (Or start to deliver some great content) and yes, I had a good Christmas thank you.

So now we’ve moved on some words about Huckleberry Finn and censorship.

First off I don’t agree with censorship of any kind. I don’t agree with the idea that someone should be able to tell me what’s OK and what’s not OK for me to see, hear or read. If I know something is out there that I or others may potentially find offensive then I make the choice whether or not I should see it.

But I think there’s some rare occasions when it’s OK. This new edition of Huckleberry Finn is one of them. Now for the record I love Mark Twain, and as an Adult reading his works I ‘get’ what he was doing. But the sad truth is that Schools (Particulary those in the US, which is the focus of this piece) don’t feel as if they’re able to teach the work because of the racial epitaphs “Nigger” and “Injun”. The case of “Nigger” is a little more problematic given that it’s actually a character name, and while censoring it may undermine the point that Twain was trying to make, there’s a case to be made that changing the character name from Nigger Jim to Slave Jim essentially makes the same point that Twain was making, but in a way that younger people can understand.

I understand that the man who made the changes, a Twain scholar, did so because while on a speaking tour about Twain and his works he was informed by countless teachers that they’d love to teach his works but some of the language was stopping them. This could be put down to over sensitive Teachers, or to the fact that a parent hears their child describe a book they were reading and is mortified to hear the word “Nigger” is freely tossed around. Truth is we don’t quite know why Teachers are not comfortable with doing it, but they’re not, so Twain is stricken from the system in favour of an author far more bland but much more damaging to our youth…Nicholas Sparks.

There are of course other ways around this. There’s an edition of Pippi Longstockings that names one character the Negro King but modern editions add a foreword  to say that at the time the book was written the word wasn’t deemed as offensive as it is now, but as it was a different time people didn’t really know all that better. Indeed, I agree with the idea that people should understand where words come from, and the original intent of Twain giving his character that name (By the end Huck learns that using the word Nigger is hurtful – as it is Twain’s book is not just anti-slavery but also anti-racism. Pretty brave for 1885). However if someone is interested they can find that out in due course, as I imagine most people will. One thing that gets overlooked is that this isn’t being used to replace the original text, but it will get people reading who were never going to read it in the first place (Or who weren’t allowed to read it). How can that be a bad thing? Kids get to read genuine classics again without teachers having to worry about the effect it might have.  Plus anything that keeps the kids away from Blitz Cat is fine by me…

2 thoughts on “New Year and a more committed Blog: Plus some words about Huckleberry Finn

  1. Yours is one of the first defenses of the NewSouth edition I’ve seen (the guy needs all the support he can get). I see your point but I think there are larger issues at stake. I’m not sure you can change the vocabulary of the narrator (remember Huck is the narrator) without changing the character, for starters. I think the professor should have spent his time on materials that show teachers how to teach the book rather than altering the book. Anyway, for my 2 cents:

    http://wordnut.com/2011/01/05/tweaking-twain/

    • No I agree, but I think there are cases both for and against it. I can see why people would be against changing the language (Again one of the things that Huck learns is that the term ‘Nigger’ is hurtful and doesn’t use it. I agree that changing it lessens the impact of that lesson, on the other hand the revision is pretending that the word doesn’t exist but the term ‘slave’ is equally as abhorrent) but at the same time I think if there’s a foreword explaining the change and the impact then it’s good that kids can read that. If they want to read the original edition then they’re free to do so.

      Again the most important thing to remember is that this isn’t replacing the standard edition but it is allowing people to read it who, for whatever reason, were not able to read it before. I’m happier for them to read it in truncated form than I am for them to not read it at all.

      Also, I need to research this more but I’m positive the edition I read when I was in School also omitted the word. So it’s odd that this gets so much press.

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