Should the New South Huckleberry Finn be allowed to supplant the Old South Huckleberry Finn?

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The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library is home to the original manuscript Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the most lauded, yet most banned and censored, American novels. It has been treated thus from the time it first rolled off the press in late 1884 (London edition). The issue most often cited seems to be the use of the word “nigger” in the characters’ vernacular. Although the narrative voice does not use this term, the characters frequently do in their dialog. Often this over shadows the fact that the overriding theme is optimistic and moral because Huck’s conscience wins against the rules that society taught him when he protects his friend Jim. However, it seems that too many have just not been able to see past the “n” word.

So a retired English professor recently decided to replace “nigger” with “slave” and publish the “New South” edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because he was always uncomfortable reading aloud the “N” word when he taught the text and he saw this as a way to make the book more acceptable for younger readers. Yet Twain never intended the book for younger readers and he made it clear in a letter to a Brooklyn Library librarian:

“I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them…Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defense of Huck’s character since you wish it, but really in my opinion, it is no better than those of Solomon, David, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood.”

Given his own words about Huck Finn, how can one justify changing the intentional language of the text? By the way, if you have any doubt that his words were carefully chosen, come to the Mark Twain Room at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (http://www.buffalolib.org/content/grosvenor/mark-twain-room) and see for yourself. The leaves of manuscript on display and show many times where he has crossed out and replaced words and phrases one, two and three times! There is no reason to dispute the author’s linguistic intention or to alter it.

1 Comment

Filed under Censorship, Mark Twain

One response to “Should the New South Huckleberry Finn be allowed to supplant the Old South Huckleberry Finn?

  1. What has always amazed me is that so many are unable to understand that it is not words, themselves, that are “evil”, racist, whatnot, but the intentions of the speaker. Being uncomfortable seeing a word in print is immature—and wanting to censor it for that reason both childish and egoistic. (In particular, noting that Twain had no evil intentions and that the use, to my knowledge, was not historically unrealistic.) Further, censoring “nigger” in a book depicting slavery and poor treatment of slaves is about as bright as allowing television to show gruesome murders, but censoring nudity.

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