Huckleberry Finn--The Latest Controversy

Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn--controversial from Day One of publication, no doubt. And also a standard in the reading curriculum in many public American high schools. (My husband, notably educated in South Carolina, didn't have to read the book.)

See The New York Times in Do Word Changes Alter Huckleberry Finn? and Should Mark Twain Be Allowed to Use the N-word? in one of the Wall Street Journal blogs to read about the current controversy surrounding a limited edition of the book, marketed to high schools, with the replacement of the "n word" with "slave."

Unnecessary Censorship or Necessary Evil? So read the original subject line on the notice sent to one of my library discussion lists. And that's the same terminology I used in my new blog poll. Please vote!

My personal take is two-fold. The word "slave" in no way, shape, or form holds the same connotation as the other word. While no one wants to be a slave, you can objectively be classified as a slave in the same way you can be classified as a student, a mother, a fireman, a Boy Scout, a volunteer, etc. The other word is not a true category; it's a racist word used to demean, belittle, and dehumanize an entire group of people, collectively and individually.

Also, is there an American high school kid who hasn't heard the "n word" used in at least one rap song? Seriously, even one young adult? I'd rather they heard the word used in the true context, with all the ugly implications, instead of in flip modern usage.

And do we really want to sugar-coat slavery and its continuing reverberations in our country today? I hope not.


sapphireblue said…
Great post! It gets ya thinkin'. If that word was changed, it would be sugar-coating the past. You are absolutely right, movies and songs have that word all the time. I hate to hear it in a contemporary song or movie. So durrogatory.
@sapphireblue--I really do think, in this context, it's a necessary word since Twain was making a statement with his word choice. I hate the idea of sugar-coating, or even thinking that kids today can't "handle" the word.
heidenkind said…
I would say it's definitely white-washing the book and shouldn't be done.
Anonymous said…
I've been mulling over this topic and wondering whether or not to post about it. I condone neither use of the word nor censorship. But I have to think back to when I was required to read Huck Finn in high school. Did seeing it in a "classic" encourage me to use it or think that it's okay to use it? No.
Did the teacher even discuss the use of the word? No.
Does hearing it or reading it today make me angry or uncomfortable when used by a person of color? Yes.
I do not think Huck Finn should be altered. I think high school students today and the future should have the choice of pretending to read the original Huck Finn while secretly just skimming through the Cliff Notes.

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