Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Note From Mom: Huck Finn Controversy

Acton and my mom sent us this article from the NY Times this morning.

"A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is missing something. Throughout the book — 219 times in all — the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave,” a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February." -From the NY Times 

What do you guys think about this controversy. It seems a little ridiculous to me. They're just going to pretend that America's never struggled with racism? Seems like part of the experience of great literature is to be able to contextualize it. Not necessarily to emulate it-- but to get a glimpse into a perspective that broadens your perceived horizons.

Twain was born into the slave State of Missouri in 1835. His uncle, who he spent a summer with at an impressionable age, famously owned twenty or so slaves. It seems like it's hard to discuss Huck Finn without having that conversation. Then again, it is a horrible word. And maybe it's better if young school children, to whom the book is often taught, are excused from the debate at such an early age. I read Huckleberry Finn in tenth grade; but our father had been reading us Twain long before (censoring the word on his own).

What are your thoughts?


  1. All those "bad" words/scenes are great teachable moments for providing context and life lessons for kids. How else do assimilate the lessons of the past and move on if we can't talk about it?

  2. Yeah. So true. I was curious as to what the official NewSouth website had to say for themselves. Here's the book blurb:

    "In a radical departure from standard editions, Twain's most famous novels are published here as the continuous narrative that the author originally envisioned. More controversial will be the decision by the editor, noted Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben, to eliminate the pejorative racial labels that Twain employed in his effort to write realistically about social attitudes of the 1840s.

    Gribben points out that dozens of other editions currently make available the inflammatory words, but their presence has gradually diminished the potential audience for two of Twain's masterpieces. "Both novels can be enjoyed deeply and authentically without those continual encounters with the hundreds of now-indefensible racial slurs," Gribben explains. "

    What do you think?