The US edition of Mark Twains classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be published without the offensive racial term “nigger.” The word appears 219 times in Twains text, and the word “slave” will be substituted in a combined edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, to be published next month by New South Books (Moore). Huckleberry Finn, which was first published in 1884. Huckleberry Finn is a story about the adventures of two boys along the Mississippi river in the mid-19th century (Page). The new edition will also change “Injun Joe” to “Indian Joe” and “half-breed” to “half-blood”(Moore).
The N word has sparked great controversy in America, the publisher of Huckleberry Finn believe replacing the N word with slave will increase the books’ popularity and make it user-friendly. However, it is my strong belief that altering Twians’ masterpiece, distorts American history, and alters American culture.
According to Barbara Jones of the American Library Association, “the book has been criticized for its language and characterizations since it was first published in 1885” (Moore). Apparently, Huckleberry Finn was among the top five books challenged or banned during the 1990s (Moore). Alan Gribben, professor of English at Auburn University-Montgomery says, “Many Twain scholars can’t stand it” (Page). He believes his new edition is not for them; he said, “it’s for readers.” Before the change people complained, they were not able to get past the word. Teachers have told him that they cannot use the book in class, because parents and students find the language “hurtful” and “injurious” (Page). The use of the N word encourages the young students to use it without understand the gravity of the words. Gribben believes the readers will still be able to understand Twain’s message without the blare of the offensive word drowning out the book’s themes. Gribben says, “All I’m doing is taking out a tripwire and leaving everything else intact” (Page). All his sharp social critique, all his satirical jabs are intact. This novel cannot be made color-blind.
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Huckleberry Finn was among the top five books challenged or banned during the 1990s. “The book has been criticized for its language and characterizations since it was first published in 1885,” says Barbara Jones of the American Library Association, which tracks how often books are banned from libraries (Moore). If it is true that the use of the N-word is too controversial for readers like middle school and high school students, then it is easy to assume that they are not capable of understanding the genius of Twain. Mark Twain’s’ Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered a classic by most. T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece. Should this timeless master piece which is said to be the source of all modern American literature be altered, Twain himself did not take kindly to editing. Literary critics say, “when he discovered a printer had made punctuation changes to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, he wrote that he had given orders for the typesetter to be shot without giving him time to pray” (Moore). This shows that Twain used words with great purpose. Twain once described the difference between the almost-right word and the right word as the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning (Rawls). Therefore it is clear that the word was written for a purpose.
Replacing the N word distorts American history. There is no other word that could be used to replace the word Nigger. The word is distinct from any other form of slavery. Thousands of civilizations have had slaves. Slaves in America have been abused and mistreated like no form of slavery. The term is hateful and dehumanizing; “Nigger” is a word that best describes American slavery, and that an integral part of American history. There is no hiding from history; the word is a portrayal of the current times. The use of the word slave creates an inaccurate illustration and sends an even more shameful message. Twain wrote the book when people were still struggling to end racism. When Huck addresses Jim as “nigger,” it was the word African Americans were called during that times period. As the novel progresses Huck’s view of Jim changes, he no longer sees Jim as a nigger. Huck instead calls Jim “his best friend” and ” a good man.” By using the word “nigger” Mark Twain was able to satirize the current society of the time and make them realize how idiotic they were when they didn’t want to accept the end to racism. I think substituting the word for another word will take away from the deeper meaning of why the book was written in the first place.
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If all modern American literature came from Huck Finn, then that means replacing the N word with slave would be altering American culture in the past and in the future. “Culture is the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits; or a particular form or stage of civilization” (Culture). Americans today are exposed to the “n-word” through music, movies, and other elements of popular culture. By studying Huck Finn the N word being used in a powerful context, might open the eyes of people who use the word without knowing its importance and make them realize what a hateful and ugly word it was back then and still is today.
American society has a problem speaking truth about our attitudes toward race. The assumption that if the word is taken out then the text will be less racist and there will be no need for further discussion of the issue is foolish. Removing the N word completely ignores the fact that the whole text reflects the institutional racism of the time period; and insults Twains’ masterpiece. There should be more effort placed on racial awareness, this book is an excellent example of how we can progress as a divers nation.
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