1. Cynglen
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    Cynglen Senior Member

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    The "New" Huckleberry Finn

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Cynglen, Jan 10, 2011.

    So, as you may or may not have heard, a new edition of Twain's Huckleberry Finn is being released by NewSouth Books upon suggestion of "Mark Twain Scholar" Alan Gribben. What's significant about this release is that all 219 occurrences of the word "nigger" in Finn are being replaced with the word "slave" in an effort, so Gribben says, to make this classic more teachable/accessible to the general reader.

    This article has the full story.

    Having read and thoroughly discussed this book with some very competent people over the years, I think this is really a travesty and insult to both Twain and those who have yet to read Finn. Yes the word makes us uncomfortable in modern, socially-aware society, but Twain wrote this book during a very different time to (I believe) point out the effects of the racist southern culture of the era, and "nigger" was a very commonly used word back then.

    So what do you think? Gribben claims he's trying to make the book less likely to get banned in schools (as it frequently is) and easier for students to access, while I've already presented my case (very briefly) for why this is a bad idea.
     
  2. Vintage
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    Vintage Member

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    I think people are overreacting. As someone who was bullied throughout my school years, I can tell anyone who is willing to listen that a word is just a combination of letters and nothing else, despite the connotations. So are the letters bad? If I make up a word, say, Gengri, is that also a bad word? What if I just turn it around? Reggin? No? Then I do not see what the problem is, especially since this was, as you say, written in a different time. Like Lovecraft's white supremacist messages, one just needs to take this kind of thing with a pinch of salt.

    Remember kids: Sticks and stones. Sticks and stones.
     
  3. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    The changing of that one word neither makes a mockery of the book nor insults the author. Ideally, I would sooner the book were read without the change; but, I would sooner have it read with the change, than not read at all.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This kind of revisionist censorship can never be a good thing. If America is still so uncomfortable with this part of it's history that a pro-abolition book is censored, then more action needs to be taken than this half-assed editing of a literary classic.

    And while we're at it, why not go back and censor Shakespeare's anti-semitism, put a ban on Wagner, not to mention the classic discourse 'The Nigger Question'. Whether spineless high school principals like it or not, slavery is part of America's legacy, as is the word 'nigger'. Censoring it is dishonest ethically and academically.
     
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  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am with Art. It has been worth having the changes made to Enid Blyton, some are going too far, but at least children are having access and being encouraged to read her again. It was a travesty she fell out of favour.

    I think Mark Twain is one of the best authors ever and if it gives his books a wider readership that is fantastic (even as a result of making the changes gaining publicity for the books).
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Huckleberry Finn is an American classic, widely read, widely studied and in absolutely no danger of falling out of the public consciousness anytime in the foreseeable future. The changing of the word 'nigger' to 'slave' is a tonal whitewash, literally. Twain wasn't depicting good-natured slave owners, he was depicting the kind of racism that horrified him and many other Americans at the time. Removing it is a clear violation of Twain's intent. The book is available in practically every library and bookstore in the western world, as well as freely available in the public domain online. Making it 'easier for students to access' is a preposterous pretense masking much more disturbing social concerns.
     
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  7. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    This. The fact that the original wording disturbs people is exactly why it shouldn't be changed.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    So you would rather he went the way of Enid Blyton in the UK where a whole generation missed out on her ?
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This isn't a case of people reading the censored version or not at all--no one is missing out on him. Huckleberry Finn hasn't been out of print since it was first published, and now that it's available online, there's no reason anyone with an internet connection should miss out on it. Unlike Enid Blyton, who while being much loved by some generations hasn't contributed much to the Western Literature cannon, Twain and Huckleberry Finn are essential to the American Lit canon. As long as people study American literature, or even have a casual interest in American fiction, there will be people reading this book.
     
  10. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps it's a little ridiculous of me to quote the same person three times, but could not have said any of that better myself. Amen, amen, and amen, Arron.
     
  11. Godiva
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    I absolutely agree with arron. Twain wrote using his words, in his time. It's like a time capsule for the period he lived in. If you change it to suit our modern ideas, it's no longer his work.

    I was read Huck when I was a very small child. My dad read classics instead of picture books, and I have to say, hearing "the n word" at an impressionable age didn't turn me into a racist prig. I have a 5 year old daughter and I would gladly read her the original version. It's a learning opportunity to discuss racism and our history with it. Too many people try to protect kids from all the evil in the world instead of teaching them how to navigate it.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree with arron as well. Censoring this sort of thing is pointless. Yes, it may be offending, but the word is essential to understanding the historical context of the novel.

    Besides, if they censor this, then what else might they start censoring?
     
  13. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    The change has been instigated by a Twain scholar who has seen, with alarm,Twain being dropped from syllabi these last few decdes.

    Sweeping rhetoric against censorship should normally be applauded, but not here. This is a change that affects but one edition; the original will still be produced and be available to all. This strikes me as a practical measure.

    Our Twain scholar would sooner Twain be read with these changes than not read at all. It might be hoped that the kids who read this version might, later, turn to the original. We might reflect that many folks are only ever exposed to the classics at school, and if the discourse of scholars is to resonate beyond the walls of their offices, it is necessary for the wider public to know something rather than nothing of literature.

    We might consider too, that while something of Twain has been taken away, much of Twain remains: much that is substantial, that is challenging, that is questioning. And it may be properly asked: if not Twain what will you get in his stead? Something wholly vacuous and anodyne, I imagine.
     
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  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If schools are indeed dropping Twain from their syllabus then the solution is not to change a word. It's a quick fix, one that does a great disservice to the original text and those unfortunate enough to have to read the censored version. The book's attitudes to racism and slavery are one of the main reasons it has remained so widely read, and this change effectively glosses over it. So I maintain, even if it was done with good intentions, the change is academically dishonest. It's an easy way around a question that needs to be asked, and while it probably shouldn't fall to a Twain scholar to ask it, in the wake of this proposed change it seems clear that someone needs to intervene.

    Besides which, when you can turn your radio or tv to any popular music station and hear the word thrown around as casually as it is, I refuse to believe that it's use makes a good case for banning or altering a classic novel.
     
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  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually if we use Enid Blyton as the equivelent - it has made a difference. There has been a resurgence of her work recently. Shakespeare in the UK has always had a schools edition with all the naughty bits edited out.

    Yes it can go to far (they now want to take cucumber sandwiches and ginger beer out lol) - however one word in a schools edition won't make a huge amount of difference. It was those schools editions of Shakespeare that encouraged my love of his work. Same can happen here.

    As an author would much rather have later generations tweak my book lose it entirely.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with this. It's a bad idea, and further it insults the intelligence of the kids who are the target audience, or their teachers, or both, assuming that they can't have intelligent discourse about certain language used in this particular period in U.S. history. It robs them of a classroom learning experience.

    Like most politically-correct actions, it is a poorly thought-out and surface level action that allows the person doing it to pat himself on the back, but accomplishes little more.
     
  17. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Attitudes about race and about slavery permeate every paragraph of the book. The excision of this one word will derange the tenor of the work by the smallest of margins: if we think otherwise it is because we too are falling into the trap of amplifying the resonance of a word that Twain will have deployed without pause.

    I suspect our Twain scholar has made the change with a heavy heart. But what to do when merely one word is an obstacle to a book of worth and beauty being read? (And anybody who has given some thought to the practicalities of teaching in today's classrooms, will readily understand why it is an obstacle).

    Here’s the danger: if no Twain is read at all, in a generation or so, when this argument is revisited, few will care to plead the case for the original.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't see any evidence that retaining the original text will lead to no more Twain being read.

    As for the scholar, there have been Twain scholars all over the TV and internet decrying this as well, so it's not like there is any uniform 'scholarly' principle involved in the edit.

    The most dangerous arguments in favor of censorship always seem good on the surface. Lets face it, ridiculous arguments from the fringes of society aren't the ones we really have to concern ourselves with. It is the censorship couched in elevated principles and delivered in the guise of political-correctness that are most troublesome, because those are the most likely to persuade people.

    And, I might add, a Professor of African American studies on TV was extremely concerned, because he said that the body of Black literature in this country was replete with this word for many decades (and much of it still is). If this word is grounds for censorship, then what's next, get rid of Ralph Ellison? The professor was right to be worried.
     
  19. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would seem that - certainly school - reading of Twain is declining. Take a look at the article.

    My argument may appear specious, but it is not animated by political correctness. It is simply a sincere facing up to the situation at hand.
     
  20. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    The word 'nigger' should have no place in today's world.If it's right to include it in Huckeberry Finn, a book primarily aimed at a young audience, then what makes it wrong for our kids to use it?

    As far as 'political correctness' is concerned, isn't that just another way of saying' consideration for others'. Why do we think it's o.k. to insult people for the sake of literature, or anything else for that matter.

    Of course the P.C brigade get it wrong sometimes. But I think, in this case, it's spot on.
     
  21. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This is the kind of poorly thought out argument that I suspect has caused the banning of the books in the first place. You can't just ignore a bit of history you don't like, or that you find embarrassing or uncomfortable. By allowing the word 'nigger' to remain in a historical text, you're not endorsing racism (and neither was the original book when Twain was using it), you're accurately portraying people's real attitudes at the time. It isn't an English teacher's responsibility to teach your child how to behave, and while a discussion of the word would probably come up in a discussion of the book, the burden of guidance lies with the parents: if you're a parent, parent.

    This isn't a change that's being done out of consideration for others, it's the desperate act of a scholar whose idol is in danger of being neglected, and while I can certainly sympathise with his position, this solution is grossly negligent. As I said before, the banning of texts like Huckleberry Finn is symptomatic of a much more troubling problem with society, and that is where attention should be directed, not at the censorsip of an American classic.
     
  22. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    'Banning texts' is surely different to changing one word for one which if far more appropriate and less insulting.

    It takes nothing from story or from the spirit of the book.


    I do not find the word 'nigger' embarrasing or uncomfortable - what I do find slightly confusing is the need to hold onto it.

    There are and always have been books published an an 'abridged version' when in some cases quite large chunks are ommitted. And that has not yet caused the extinction of literature as we know it.

    I do wonder why the desire to continue the use this one word is causing so much concern and why you consider it a 'desperate act' to remove it in order to make the book more acceptable.

    Just for the record, I would be appalled at the prospect of banning any publication. Censorship is not something I agree with, but I am certainly open to removing the odd inflamatory word to maintain (not destroy) any classic, American or otherwise.
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I could understand if this was happening in every edition but from what I can gather is this is just a schools edition - something that has happened with plenty of works of literature in my country for many years. Especially living in a Scots Language area some of the stuff needs glossaries and a 'translation' etc.
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Arron. This is not only poorly thought out, but a troubling mindset that can be used as a rationale to censor any type of speech, suppress unpopular opinion, etc. I find it even more troubling that this sort of thinking rears its head on a writer's site.
     
  25. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Why would you consider this poorly thought out? Because it doesn't fit into your way of thinking?

    You 'find it more troubling that this sort of thinking rears its head on a writer's site' - where else is it more apt to discuss this?

    What I am finding objectionable about your argument is that you assume that, because I am in agreement with the changing of one word, I am obviously going to rampage through life wanting to censor or supress anyone's opinion on anything. Seems a little paranoid to me.

    The principle is called 'Freedom of Speech' which I believe in totally. I also believe that we have a responsibility to use that in the best way possible without insulting or degrading anyone.

    There is a tendency to jump on the 'PC loonies again' bandwagon. I think this is any easy way out when an argument can't be justified.

    We are never going to get agreement on this subject, but that doesn't mean it's wrong to discuss it and it doesn't mean that someone who disagrees with your point of view has considered their argument less than you have.
     

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