Be led into the obscure

Sanitizing Huckleberry Finn = Whitewashing History

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Book

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Book

An attempt to edit, or rather censor, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the greatest novels ever written, has sparked off a row.

Taking offense to the occurrence of the ‘N-word’ 219 times in the book, Alan Gribbons, an Auburn University Professor, has taken up the responsibility to rid the American classic of those words. The new version of the book, which would be published by NewSouth Books in Feb 2011, will have the word ‘slave’ replace the ‘N-word’.

“It enables us to set this inflammatory racial epithet aside and begin to address the greatness of Twain’s works,” CBS quotes the professor as saying.

Gribbons told USA Today of the troubles teachers are facing due to the contents of the book, which parents and children find “injurious” and “hurtful”.

Justifying his controversial move, the Professor says that he is revising the text to make it more readable and argues that the readers would still get the essence of Twain’s message.

While there is small fraction of the society that seems to be heaving a sigh of relief on the move (ex: few mothers of school children), this attempt to “sivilize” Twain’s book just like how his character Widow Douglas tried to “sivilize” Huck has invited the ire of many. People have spoken out against the “censorship” and the revision of the masterpiece, which is considered a sin among the literary circles.

Several online campaigns have also begun. One among those is on the social networking site Facebook, titled Boycott NewSouth Books.

“The revision and censorship of literary works is wrong and should be stopped. It is wrong to “clean” the works of masters because someone is too lazy to explain to new readers why something was written the way it was. Companies that take this step need to be rebuked in the harshest form. Deny them business,” the description reads.

The campaign has already been been ‘liked’ by 100 users, it is only a matter of time before this number goes up judging from the response to the news on the revision have evoked so far.

Huckleberry Finn has been trending on Twitter for several hours now. Some of the Tweets are listed below:

jess3 wrote: “Snooki wrote a book and Huckleberry Finn is being censored. It’s official: literature is dead. Great way to start the new year!”

StephenAtHome posted: “It’s great that they took the N-word out of ‘Huckleberry Finn’. Now get to work on ‘Moby D-Word’.”

ZacGlitchBuster tweeted: “Huckleberry Finn is being censored. A tragedy. It also shows how spineless some schools are. Pathetic”

Pixies say:

Huck and Jim on the raft

Huck and Jim on the raft

As writers and artists yourselves, we stand against any form of censorship. The move to take out the ‘N-word’ from Huckleberry Finn is a mindless act as the authenticity of the text would be lost in the process.

The book is based in Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s, in a time and place where the epithet was widely used. Mark Twain’s works often elicit reading under realism. The truth and the reality of the settings reflected in the book can not be obscured, to no extent what so ever.

If we can not teach our children of what constitutes the human history and the horrific realities of the centuries past, then why teach them anything at all. Don’t we read history, hoping that when it repeats itself we are equiped with enough rationality to not commit the same mistakes?

Moreover, the replacement of ‘N-word’ with “slave” only re-asserts the institution of slavery.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim

Huckleberry Finn and Jim

Besides, Twain’s efforts to capture the reality also included writing to reproduce the dialect. All those who have studied literature have learned how the writer reproduced several dialects, including the “Missouri negro dialect”. While Huck does not speak “proper English”, Jim, the slave of Miss Watson, speaks bad English with a very heavy accent.

So this revision, not only censors, but also deforms the genuineness and genius of the text; while the choice of word substitute is poor as well as pointless.

Omékongo Dibinga, a spoken word artist, rapper, actor, one of Les Brown’s hand selected platinum motivational speakers and a winner of Urban Music Award Winner, says on CNN iReport, “Editing these texts is essentially rewriting them.

“We should not be politically correct about our history. For all of American history’s positivity and negativity, it’s still our history. Let’s not try to whitewash it.”

However, one consolation for those against the revision is the fact that NewSouth is not the only publisher. The original version of the book will still be in circulation as there are several other publishers that publish the classic.


4 responses

  1. Robert Koepke

    Thank you for a great article about this tragedy, and for including a link to my Boycott Newsouth Books Facebook page. Those who revise history are criminals of the highest degree. We are supposed to study and learn from our past, in hopes of improving our future. When the true story of our past is diluted or changed, we lose the ability to make truly informed choices. And from an artistic point of view, art should never be modified from the original artists intent. That is also a criminal act. Help us to put an end to both. Join our boycott and participate in the demonstrations being planned at the offices of Newsouth books and the Auburn University campuses.

    January 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    • Hi we support your campaign fully and agree that revising/editing any piece of art is a criminal act….hope your campaign gets enough exposure and in turn our voices are heard and understood by the people who are unable to grasp the significance of this development.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:44 am

  2. jonathan

    Editing such a artistic masterpeice shows how spinnless this country has become.You can not truly understand the time period unless Twain is allowed to speak of it as one from this time would.The book does not promote hate.It simply shows the reader the state of mind for this particular time period.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm

  3. You completed certain good points there. I did a search on the matter and found a good number of people will agree with your blog.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:17 am

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