Sunday, April 24, 2011

Huck Finn~ Censured, Banned, or Revised?

Mark Twain’s classic stories “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades. The repeated use of “nigger” and “injun” have resulted in outright bans in many public schools and libraries. The “N” word appears over 200 times in Finn.  First published in 1884, the word was one of common usage.

In the opinion of Twain scholar, Prof. Alan Gribben of Auburn University in Alabama, stated that “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs.” 
Gribben replaces the offensive slurs with “slave.”  He commented that “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
The politically correct version has gone to market, and all 7500 have just about sold out. 
Black CollegeUniv. of Oregon Associate Professor David Bradley disagrees:
“You use the term ‘teachable moment’ and that’s what n*&^%$ gives you.  That’s why it’s important to keep it in there,” says the author, and Mark Twain scholar.  “I call “Huckleberry Finn” a power tool when it comes to education,” says Bradley.  “There are so many things [in it] that pry things open…That teachable moment is when that word hits the table in a classroom. Everybody goes ‘wooh’ Okay, let’s talk about it.”
But retaining it deprives others of experiencing the novel in school at all, said Randall Williams, co-owner and editor of NewSouth Books, republished “Huckleberry Finn” with "slave" replacing over 200 appearances of the N-word.

“It’s not ‘Huckleberry Finn” anymore,’” counters Bradley.   “What are we teaching them [by removing the N-word]? This may be their first encounter with slavery.”  He says that to withhold the N-word is to avoid an integral reality. “‘Slave’ is a condition…nothing for anybody to be ashamed of,” says Bradley, “But n*&^%$ has to do with shame…calling somebody something.  N*&^%$ is what made slavery possible.”

* Sorry a 2nd ad appears about 1 minute into the story, but then the story resumes, uninterrupted.

What camp are you in?
Is it ever OK to mess with a literary classic?
Is the revision excusable because it would otherwise be banned?
Sometimes Banning a book actually makes it more popular because censorship has that effect.
But I find it interesting how different teachers approach the subject.  One teacher spends 3 full days talking about race, racism, & racial slurs, while another refuses to use the "N" word at all.

When I grew up in the 60's the "N" word was still around, but I was taught it was a derogatory word, one that should not be used. Still I heard the adults sometimes using it, or telling jokes that included that word.  I am not talking about the deep south, I am talking about Chicago.

This book was written in the 1800's when the word was accepted & commonplace in that era. Does not make it right in the 21st century, but this story takes place in that era.
The problem with rewriting books to make them politically correct, is the door is then open for all books to be revised.
How far back do we go?  The bible has some offensive passages- and many would argue that it had already been censored, as some of the writings of Thomas were  scrapped, because they did not fit the dogma of the church at the time.
Writer's write what they are thinking. Mark Twain wrote it that way, and we are free to openly address it. It is a period piece.   The word "negro" was supposedly the correct, respectful word @ the time, but even now it is condescending, and divisive. The term "African American" was not used. Even since then, that once "politically correct" term, often angered black Americans.
I remember Whoopie Goldberg going off an a serious tangent about it.
"I am an American, she said, I have never been to Africa. You say this is my heritage, then why don't we go around calling people German Americans, Polish Americans, Irish Americans???"

We are people. We come in different colors. Perspectives changed over time.

Do we look back & change literature to sanitize it, or it is unacceptable to mess with the writings of another author in order to make it politically correct?

Your thoughts?


D.K. Raed said...

I do not agree w/changing Twain's classic. Twain wrote it in dialect to reflect how people talked then.

More important than the dialect is the relationship between Jim & Huck who comes to see that Jim is the same as anyone, same desires to protect his family, same wish for freedom, etc. When Huck could turn Jim in as a runaway slave, he realizes that even if lying imperils his mortal soul (something he seems concerned about), he will not turn in his friend ... Huck would rather go to christian hell than betray Jim.

To me, Twain's development of Huck & Jim's relationship is key ... and the relationship is not accurately portrayed by using current nice language. There is no depth of conflict, of overcoming the inherent ugliness of racism, if the original words are hidden and/or changed.

I can't believe anyone who ever read it would change a word.

Are we now going to change Shakespeare, who wrote a masterful play called "The Merchant of Venice" that used nasty stereotypes of jews? I would not touch a word of that either!

If teachers are having a problem with the language, I might gently suggest they restrict these classics to older children who have reached an age of understanding what it is they are attempting to study.

nonnie9999 said...

i agree with d.k.

Fran said...

I'm with you- we can't be rewriting classics- it is like vandalizing the author's original words & message.
Of course if you are talking about sensitive topics, it allows the teacher to deal with the controversy- shed light on the history- and part of this story has Huck accepting Jim as an equal.

Being able to read literature without "sanitizing it" or rewriting it to make to make it politically correct gives us the full experience of what the author intended- either a glimpse in to the period of the story, or shedding light on how that division was overcome.

nonnie9999 said...

sanitizing the words would be like painting bras and boxer shorts on nudes in great paintings. if the kids aren't old enough to appreciate what they are reading or looking at, don't dumb it down for them. wait until they're mature enough to understand the context.