Just wondering what the PDD community’s thoughts and opinions are on taking the n-word out of “Huck Finn.”
It is an incredibly slippery slope to start editing literature. It really worries me to think what they might begin to censor next to "protect" us.
It should be up to President Obama. If he's ok with it, the rest of the world can be too.
For those who haven't heard about this ruckus, below is a link to the report in PW Jan. 3 that started it all, written by my colleague, Marc Schultz, the magazine's Southern correspondent.
Upcoming NewSouth 'Huck Finn' eliminates the 'n' word
I agree with Moosetracks, by the way, that editing literature written in a previous time so as to not offend modern sensibilities is a slippery slope. We can all agree that the n-word is incredibly offensive and has no olace in private or public conversation, but there are other words that could be edited that we might not all agree are offensive -- and who is to make that call. I'd rather the editor of this release have used the n-word like I am doing here. Thus, he'd be respecting the author's intent by not replacing this word in his novel, but he'd also be respecting modern sensibilities by using n-word rather than the word in its entirety.
My kid reads a lot of books, and sometimes comes across words or themes she finds offensive. It's a great opportunity for parents and teachers to start a discussion about the offending word or theme, and why it's offensive.
Slippery slope: Amen, Moosetrack.
If they feel they have to change a piece of literature from the past to match the political correctness of the current culture, they are missing the point of art and literature entirely. Twain's use of the language reflected a part of America at the time it was written. Should someone repaint the corpulent women in Rueben's paintings, an ideal for his time, to make them appear less "fat" so they match today's emphasis on thin models and battles against childhood obesity?
This is what literature classes are for: to TEACH the book. To put it in context with the socio-political climate at the time it was written, including the author's background and beliefs. Much can be taught about America at the time through some of the "ugly" language in Huck Finn. To sanitize it is to remove those lessons.
Besides, why are we so afraid of words? Our fear of a politically incorrect word gives that word power, and it distracts from the real issue at hand. Wouldn't we be able to more progressive about eliminating racial tensions if we weren't spending a lot of time arguing about a word and who has the right to use it? What if W. E. B. Du Bois had written Huck Finn? Would we dare censor it then?
What's the "n word"? Is it nigger? Can we stop this shit? Words only have the power that you give them. Don't self identify as a nigger and it will never hurt you. Enough with the revisionist censorship.
Do I like censoring materials? No.
However, do I agree with selective editing that serves a purpose? Yes, as long as that information is clearly acknowledged and the user knows what is missing and why. Abridged versions of stories are an example of this, as well as clean versions of CDs that bleep swear words.
The edited version of the Huck Finn book isn't going to become the standard version of the book. It is a variant that is produced to allow kids to read it who otherwise wouldn't be able to (due to over-zealous teachers or school boards).
I think it's unfortunate that schools would choose the edited version, instead of the standard version which could then be used as a talking point, but if this is the only way kids will encounter it, it's better than nothing (and may encourage them to find a non-edited version).
Perhaps they could replace it with the Duluth euphemism "ghetto."
I happen to agree with the majority of the posters, that this is a slippery slope. Editing history to make it more palatable to current standards, makes it easier to forget and repeat the offensive piece again. I also find it interesting that I was only able to find one story that made mention of the fact that they are also replacing "injun" with Native American. While both the n-word and injun are derogatory terms now, we can not ignore by editing that they are this way because of their past connotations. Also what does it say about society today that the replacement of the n-word is more newsworthy than that of injun?
When books on paper disappear, the e-versions will probably have a political correctness filter button. Those who aren't afraid of words will leave the filter OFF. Those who can't see the forest (because it was cut down through their own stupidity) will push the button and relish their continued ignorance.
Spoiler Alert: I'm a nerd. And it goes way back. When I was younger than my youngest daughter, somewhere around 7, I got a gift box of a dozen or so "little" classics. It introduced me to "Huck Finn" plus "The Call of the Wild," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and several others. I remember a true, deep joy reading those simplified classics. On rainy days or late at night I would sit for hours and read those books and they opened up a whole new world (of nerdery) to me. Each one was maybe 100 or 150 pages with a few illustrations here and there.
I do not recall if the Huck Finn (or Tom Sawyer) book included the "N-word" or not. And I am not sure that I care if it did or not. I do remember that the book left me with a clear and unambiguous view that slavery was abhorrent. This is not only the truth; I am convinced that it was also the author's intent.
Later, I re-read the "real" version of Huck Finn in High School, which is as it should be. Yep. Every high school kid in America should read Huck Finn. If they can read at all, that is.
In related news our new 'house' has begun reading the amended slavery-free Constitution in it's entirety.
In case anyone wants a copy of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn or several other classics, Barnes and Noble was having a buy two get one free deal. At least as of yesterday evening when I was there. Several of the books Wildgoose mentioned were available.
I just read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn a few weeks ago. The Duluth library had a really cool, old copy of Huck Finn with great illustrations.
Vernacular is so much a part of those books, I think it would be especially wrong to mess with them. The books portray a lot of narrow-minded views, but they should at least be allowed to portray them accurately.
I say leave art alone. David should put some clothes on, though.
Jadiaz, I heard the author was replacing "Injun" with "Indian," where did you read he was replacing it with the word "Native American?" If so, that is indeed political correctness run amuck! I can easily find out and will do so and report.
BTW, part of the problem is that there are those who think books should be banned if they offend one's morals or sensibilities. This scholar's road to hell is paved with the good intention of trying to produce an edition of Huck Finn that won't be banned from schools and libraries. It's always up there on the Banned Books lists, along with Color Purple, BTW.
Even though I disagree with what the editor's doing to Huck Finn, I am sympathetic to his reasons for doing so.
Book banning really pisses me off more than anything.
I just can't believe it! It's a travesty....
N-Word? Really? REALLY? Is it just me or is it [already] at the point where "N-Word" is more offensive than "nigger"?
Now, on to the topic at-hand. This whole "Slave/Nigger Jim" thing is ridiculous. My problem is that the whole point of that character is that he is treated as less than human so much so that he even has to be called by name as something as atrocious as "Nigger Jim." Think about that. Now with "Slave Jim" the internal struggles of Huck dealing with his best pal are not nearly as meaningful or important. In fact, it could be argued that the character is no longer specifically black and this move is more damaging to African-Americans.
As long as they are changing names, why is that character forced to use the abbreviation for his name? I find that offensive. Why not "Slave James"?
Somebody explain to me why we're still reading this mediocre piece of junk?
When people say that the point of the book is to talk about race, this implies that Twain had a point about race to make when he wrote it. I don't believe that. I think that, starting with the moment that they decide to float south on the Mississippi to escape slavery, the book falls almost to pieces. Excellent boy's adventure story, little more.
Here's what I found out from my colleague about other changes in the wording in this edition of Huck Finn:
Injun will be replaced with "indian," and "half-breed" will be replaced with "half-blood."
You know, "Huck" is dangerously close to another magically offensive word. I think his name should be changed to Heath.
I find the irony here absolutely delicious: Liberals denouncing political correctness.
How do you know they are all liberals? Is it because they seem to have read and comprehended a piece of literature?
Don't answer that. It is totally rhetorical.
er, ShotDown, I think that goes to show how shallow you may be viewing your fellow Pdders, it is not ironic at all, hell I'd say historically it has been people of a more liberal bend who have stood up for artistic freedoms.
As part of literature an offensive word may be very appropriate as being of-the-time, or indicative of the traits of a character. There really is not much to argue about this.
In everyday life given words do have power, as much as people seem to want to dismiss it as people "being afraid," or out-of-control political correctness, I feel it's more complex than that. I am not particularly offended, or afraid, by these words, but they do indicate the type of person who would casually use them. The language you use generally serves as bright social markers to how you think. There is more then a word choice semantic between woman and bitch, between African American and nigger, words that are intended to harm, intimidate or belittle whole groups of people, especially when those words are part of casual speech of those in a position to do physical harm, or to threaten, those are not innocent easy to brush off.
Professor Gribben's efforts are well-intentioned, but ridiculous. Of course, he wants to make the book more accessible and that's laudable. But, a better approach would be to talk with representatives of libraries and school districts that have removed it from reading lists in an effort to convince them to return to teaching the classic. A new edition without the potentially offensive (but, historically and academically useful) words is a lazy way to approach the problem.
By the way, I feel compelled to split a hair. What the professor is doing is not censorship. Censorship can only be done by an "official" entity. Usually, that means government. But, it might mean an owner of copyrighted material since they'd be the only ones with authority to make such changes, thus make the changes "official" and any other options prohibited according to government enforcement of copyright. Twain's works are now in the public domain, however, and anybody can publish any version they like.
This is not a potential start down a slippery slope of censorship. It is, sadly, an acceleration down a slippery slope of intellectual laziness. Mr. Gribben should be ashamed that he decided to "find and replace" with a digital text rather than convince a couple of influential educators and scholars to promote the original classic.
Funniest line I have heard yet about this story:
"Gribbon's next move is to remove all the keyboards from Tom Sawyer."
For the record:
"Nigger" is a term that is used in a derogatory manner toward African-Americans ("Black People") by non-"Black People", and is also used as a term of neutrality/and-or/endearment towards "Black People" by other "Black People".
In conclusion, it is a word.
Relatedly, a wise man once said something like, "Skin color is a biological irrelevancy".
Also, Dbrewing is God.
Thank you Will.
I was also going to post that censorship is something the government does. I would say this is a revising or editing. Books are revised all the time.
I did read the link that Claire provided. The N-word appears 219 times. The idea change the word is that he often read the book aloud to students.
Upcoming NewSouth 'Huck Finn' Eliminates the 'N' Word
By Marc Schultz
Cutting n-word from Twain is not censorship
By Boyce Watkins, Special to CNN
Long before I became a scholar, I was a black teenage boy. At that time, I would never have enjoyed hearing my English teacher repeat the n-word 219 times out loud in front of a class full of white students. I also would have wondered why African-Americans are the only ethnic group forced to read "classic" literature that uses such derogatory language toward us in a disturbingly repetitive way.
I agree with him. There are offense words to use about other (white) ethnic groups. And I don't even dare say or write them down here.(And I am thinking of ones used for derogatory reference to people of certain European ancestry that I heard on the playground or in the halls.) I heard them in Northern Maine and I heard them in Northern North Dakota. They were slurs. And if a teacher were to use them out-loud in a classroom especially 219 times, it would have made kids of that ancestry uncomfortable and the rest of the kids think it was an okay word to use because the teacher used the word. I am sure parents would have been up in arms.
Okay maybe it is splitting hairs. In my book it is only censorship if the orders come from the government. Maybe the public has been using the word censorship in a different way so much the meaning of it has changed. Similarly although the meaning of the n-word hasn't changed, the implications of its use has.
According to Dictionary.com
an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.
any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.
an adverse critic; faultfinder.
(in the ancient Roman republic) either of two officials who kept the register or census of the citizens, awarded public contracts, and supervised manners and morals.
(in early Freudian dream theory) the force that represses ideas, impulses, and feelings, and prevents them from entering consciousness in their original, undisguised forms.
It is not appropriate to apply present day morality to events of the past. Leave the book as Samuel Clemens originally wrote it and discuss how things have changed since then.
Shane's right -- and the teachers should be using the text as a teaching tool. But are they? I read Huck Finn in 7th or 8th grade and I don't think the nuns addressed the issue of the derogatory and racist slurs at all.
But, according to my colleague Marc Schultz, who actually has in hand an advance readers copy of the book, this edition is meant as a teaching tool for schoolchildren, with the editor including a clear explanation of the changes made to the text and the reasoning behind these changes.
Marc, who actually interviewed the editor, says he's not trying to deny history or what Twain actually intended by using such offensive slurs, but, rather, to get this book back into classrooms. Because, Will, it's not always so easy to talk libraries and schools into bringing back a book that's been banned when you have all sorts of zealots breathing down your neck. If readers don't like this edition -- and I certainly count myself among them -- we can easily find other editions with all the racist slurs in them.
Like I wrote before, I don't agree with this scholar, but I am sympathetic to his wanting to get this often banned book into the hands of school children. I am hoping PW will do a follow up on how the book does. It'd be pretty interesting.
I am completely against "re-writing" literatue to somehow protect someone's sensabilities, however, I think applying modern "morality" to events in the past is the only way our society will progressively evolve. If not, how could we ever pass civil-rights legislation or for that matter, stop burning witches?
Let me be clear -- what I support is the free exchange of ideas amongst people of differing views in a civil manner (unless they are Michelle Bachman nutjobs, in which case...)
I pretty much think it's stupid. Did not read the article. If, in the unlikely event this was a government move, I'll get my torch and pitchfork.
The editing may also put the racial slurs in the story more toward the historical context, instead of the modern one.
When the story was written, the racial slurs were still slurs, but did not have the emotional intensity they do today. Someone reading "nigger" or "injun" when the story came out would understand that they were racial slurs, but ones that were probably heard on a daily basis. Because our society has progressed much further in acceptance of other cultures, "nigger" and "injun" have become more emotional hot buttons when used in a modern sense.
In 1840, if someone of fame used these racial slurs, it would not be looked at as unusual or overly offensive for the time period. In 2010, someone famous used the n-word 11 times, which resulted in national outrage and firing (which I totally agree with, Dr. Laura is a psycho bitch!).
My point is (Dr. Laura rant aside), that the emotional meaning of the words "nigger" and "injun" have changed and intensified in 170 years. Someone reading Huck Finn when it was published would be able to read the unedited book and understand the context in which the words were used. Modern readers may find find the antiquated terms as so emotionally jarring that it could affect the their ability to understand the story with the intent it was created. By using "slave", "indian" and "half-blood", the modern reader is left with the bad-taste of racism, but not blood-boiling anger, which is how it was intended to be interpreted.
The show Deadwood has enough profanity that it may very well kill any nuns who risk watching it, but that is an anachronism used by the creator to show the intent rather than literal usage of the words.
The modern usage of "god-damn" would hardly garner a PG rating, but in 1870 it would have silenced a tavern. The creators changed the words in order to keep the intensity of the words, not the literal use of the words themselves.
The comic artist Jean Giraud (Moebius) recolored his comic The Incal when it was released as an American edition, because he believed the American audience would not interpret it as intended. The French version of the comic showed the world of Incal in bright, garish colors, intending to show irony in how depraved their society was. When read by American audiences who were not familiar with it, they interpreted Incal as a more appealing place then it was intended to be, as we were used to seeing bright comic coloring to portray something more enticing. To keep the intent of the Story, the American edition was recolored in darker, stark colors to emphasis the dystopian world of Incal in a way that the readers would respond to.
So yeah, a few more things to consider on this issue. Can I go back to bitching about Dr. Laura now?
Well if Jay-Z and Chris Rock can drop the N-bomb then I guess anybody can right?
To have this issue in the year 2011 is pretty stupid if you ask me.
"The only ethnic group forced to listen to slurs in classic literature.." I don't think so.
Though I get your point about your personal experience, there are many instances of bias, intolerance, hatred etc. directed at many other ethnic groups in classic literature if you look for them.
Eliminating a word will not change humankind's propensity to discriminate against one group or another. Editing literature to suit modern values robs it of its original perspective, its identity in time, and will very likely change little about the human condition.
And why this book? Huck Finn actually has something to say about matters of conscience, and the conditions of race; why don't we start with Mein Kampf or Birth of a Nation?
"And why this book? Huck Finn actually has something to say about matters of conscience, and the conditions of race"
I've never been convinced that that's true. What does it have to say? That already-freed slaves can justifiably be put through silly boy's adventures [remember, we learn at the end that Jim is already freed, if I recall correctly -- tell me if I'm not].
Jim is the wallpaper against which Huck's story is told. I'm not sure that that's all that interesting.
Michiko Katukani wrote an interesting piece about the issue in today's NY Times, it's worth reading.
"If you define niggers as someone whose lifestyle is defined by others, whose opportunities is defined by others,whose role in society is defined by others - then good news - you don't have to be black to be a nigger in this society. Most of the people in America are niggers." Congressman Ron Dellums(Dem)California 1972
I think that my initial visceral reaction has been tempered a bit by two things: 1. I know what it's like to be a teacher, and 2. I have read what it's like to be a student, specifically the only black student in a classroom of white kids.
I wonder if you (presumably most of you are white) can imagine reading this book aloud to a classroom full of black students. Would you yourself replace the words? Because a lot of teachers do in order to avoid having to be in that situation. Now, it can be argued that the book isn't that great to begin with, or that it isn't the best book to use to discuss racism with a bunch of high schoolers (after all, Jim is a buffoonish character--and so even taking out the language, he is a caricature of 19th century blackness). You wouldn't read Little Black Sambo, would you? But it's a heartwarming funny little story, my mother would say. One she grew up with. Same goes for James Chandler Harris' stories.
I have read several accounts of what it was like to be a black student in a sea of whiteness and being asked to read this book. It has been noted that there isn't exactly a book we expect white students to read that is full of slurs against white folks (though some students do read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, so that comes to mind--it isn't, however, a standard "classic" text). I read one account where a teacher required the single black student in the class to read all the parts using "nigger" because it was only okay for it to come out of his mouth. (Now if that ain't some crazy, I don't know what.)
I guess if I were a teacher, I'd be questioning whether this book fits the modern canon. Yes, it should be studied. But perhaps high school is no longer the correct place. Perhaps it more belongs in a college classroom, as an example of its time, and where students are more sophisticated and able to separate the times from the language, or to understand its context. I mean, it sucks--it's funny and it's meant to be a children's book. But there are a lot of other wonderful books that can teach about racism, slavery and the 19th century.
The book is not being censored. A new edition has been put out that has been edited for the young, modern reader, so that teachers might avoid the problems associated with it. Now, you might argue that "children's versions" of books are a blasphemy, but I think most of you read kids' versions of several classics as children. You might not have known at the time that they were edited. And frankly, I would never buy my little nieces watered down versions of anything but perhaps Shakespeare. But I wouldn't argue that they shouldn't exist.
I think maybe that I agree with Heidi on the college thing. Maybe it is a college text book by now. Hopefully this won't ignite another controversy, but I am one of those who think that "Catcher in the Rye" should be removed from the list of required High School reading, not because of its controversial subject matter, but rather because I don't think it's that great. If a high school literature teacher can cover maybe 10 books in a school year, I'd say that one can wait til college and maybe Huck Finn can, too.
Whatever anyone says about the book, it did spawn one of the best songs that Roger Miller ever wrote. And that's saying something:
"No one reads that old crap anyways."
is what my nephew told me when I asked him what he thought of Huck Finn.
so really, who cares?
find me a kid who is reading Huck Finn and I'll show you an English assignment.
The world had "bad" things in it, kids need to ask questions and figure this stuff out. We all heard the word before we were 10 years old, did it effect our lives overall?....no.
"We all heard the word before we were 10 years old, did it effect our lives overall?....no."
I don't know, but your photo looks like you are white, so saying did it have not an effect on your life depends on at what level you were involved in the changes coming about in civil rights.
Learning that this word was a slur did have an effect on my life. The generation before me used the word a lot and interchangeably.
Considering most people can't even bring themselves to say it ("the 'n' word!") perhaps it shouldn't be in there. EXCEPT that certain subcultures say it routinely and have no problem with it, unless the person saying it is white. So, I'd say the censorship and saying 'the "n" word' is stupid.
Turkey. Honky. Haole. Slant. Yellow. Nigger.
Emotionalism is not reality. Words have only the power we assign them. I assign them "powerlessness".
Censoring a text (classic or otherwise) is assigning ourselves a sense of powerlessness. We are each more powerful then a collection of letters.
Deep? Not deep. Sane.
Now, back to Peter Mayer on TPT!
I am really smart and my opinion matters a lot. You could all learn how to be better people by reading this.
I love Huck Finn, Twain's greatest work, and I think all should read an unedited version. I'm a teacher and have taught Huck Finn several years in a row to 9th graders. But it does make you pause when you have black students in the classroom and you wonder if it is worth it to teach the book when he or she has to hear that word. (I tell the kids NOT to say it out loud, of course, but still). When I teach it, we have a conversation about the word, and what it means to be racist, and what is the difference between a racist society, a racist character, and a racist book. Huck Finn, in my opinion, is not a racist book, rather it beautifully portrays a deformed world.
I hadn't heard that "half-breed" was going to be replaced with "half-blood." That sounds so "Harry Potter."
I really appreciate the insights here from hbh and from Mary. They're both teachers teaching this book in the classroom and having to actually deal with the points raised by this edition's editor. This edition of Huck Finn is meant to be used in the classroom, after all, not for general readership. BTW, the print run is 10,000 copies (to date).
Here's an update on NewSouth's plans for the book.
NewSouth moves ahead with controversial 'Huck Finn'
Perhaps not all of what I will say relates directly to the Huck Finn issue, but regarding hbh's comments about moving the book to college classrooms, despite its original intention as a children's book:
I teach at UMD. A few years ago I was assigned to teach a cultural studies course called "Frontier Heritage." I decided to assign "Little House on the Prairie" as a means of addressing popular representations of the frontier and Native Americans. We also read James Welch's amazing novel, "Fool's Crow," which vividly evokes the experiences of Native peoples during the U.S.'s imperialist "frontier" era.
That Little House book has several stereotyped and racist descriptions of "Indians" that made it really useful for working with college students on the implications of portrayals in writing and language as power. It was also useful for looking at a work of literature as a document of cultural attitudes, not just as an entertainment -- confirms, for me hbh's idea.
However, I also read all the Little House books repeatedly with both of my children. We ended up often having open discussions about what the books say about various individuals and groups. I don't believe in sugar-coating dialogue for kids -- they don't learn anything other than that grown-ups are evaders and deniers if you take that approach.
That's part of the education process -- but for that kind of approach to work, you have to have real and engaged conversations between children and adults, and between adults, about the realities of racism in our society. We don't have many support mechanisms in place for that to happen. Perhaps the Huck Finn editing issue ought to be an opportunity for US society to have a frank discussion about how far we have (and haven't) come related to racism?
But, our society seems to take this as a chance to have a fadish moment of crying "censorship" rather than really grappling with the still present legacies of the "deformed world" that Mary points out was being portrayed in Twain's book.
Just to keep harping on a single point:
I taught Huck Finn for 3 years, twice a year in a soph lit course at a UW school. And every time, I encouraged kids to question whether this book, which is often called the starting point of American Literature, is worthy of the title or the attention.
I think it's habit that gives it that position, more than anything, and college kids are ready to ask those kinds of questions.
All of my lit profs said that James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" is the starting point of American Literature.
I agree with the general line of argument in the article. However, given that it's in the racist, right-wing NY Daily News, and doesn't cite the publisher of the "new edition" of Huck Finn would be banishing the N-word, I'm not convinced this isn't a straw man for something else.
Please stop using the phrase "slippery slope." It is a logical fallacy. Read Orwell's Politics and the English Language.
RedIguana, I'm not quite sure what you mean?
Berv, the name of the fallacy is derived from the experience of the phenomena, which validates its usage here.
The icy driveway leading to my garage is in fact a slippery slope, regardless of whether logicians have also used the term to describe a logical fallacy.
I nominate Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" as the next "One Book, One Community" reading for Duluth. (Okay, it's just an essay, but who has time to read books anymore?) We could all benefit from a careful consideration of the way we speak and write. Thanks, Berv.
From the horse's mouth: Gribben talks about the controversy he ignited.
Completely irreverent and totally awesome.
I especially liked the study questions after.
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