“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” — Ernest Hemingway.
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an undeniable classic, one of the most important and influential works of American literature, notes Publisher’s Weekly.
“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.’”
A new edition is in the works which will combine Huckleberry Finn in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. But more than 200 uses of the “n” word will be changed to “slave.” The word “injun” (as in “Injun Joe”) will give way to “indian.”
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Auburn University English professor Alan Gribben, the Twain scholar behind the new edition. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.” He tells Publishers Weekly he came up with the idea after a series of public readings of Tom Sawyer.
“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.
Purists are predictably crying censorship and political correctness, but Gribben makes pragmatic sense. While I’m deeply sympathetic to the argument that protecting children from history is not a good idea, if one word is the difference between kids reading Twain’s influential classic or not, then “sanitizing” the text for contemporary sensibilities seems not too high a price to pay. The book and its powerful themes speak for themselves and have lost none of their power or relevance. ”A classic is a book which people praise and don’t read,” Twain famously quipped. Huckleberry Finn deserves to be still widely read.
That said, there is no guarantee a sanitized Huckleberry Finn find its way onto more reading lists. “I’m not offended by anything in ‘Huck Finn,’” says teacher Elizabeth Absher. “I am a big fan of Mark Twain, and I hear a lot worse in the hallway in front of my class,” she tells the New York Times.
The paper notes that Ms. Abner teaches Twain short stories in her English classes at South Mountain High School in Arizona. But she doesn’t teach Huckleberry Finn. It has nothing to do with offense racial epithets.
She says it’s “too long.”