Re-writing Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer

Prompt 1

http://www.npr.org/2011/01/05/132681463/publisher-edits-twain-classics-to-remove-slurs

Refer to the website above that discusses how an author is attempting to re-write Twain’s work by removing the references to African Americans as the “n-word.”  Write a commentary that describes the story in detail and then make an argument about whether you think this is a good idea, or not.  Remember, commentary is part subjective (your point of view), and part analysis of the issue.  This entry should be between 1-2 typed pages and should be posted to your blog.

           The original link to the story was broken, so I searched for the story and chose this link.  Both stories were from NPR.  This analysis is not fully in chronological orders presented in the NPR program.

           The interview from the above link was part of Talk of the Nation, a talk show from NPR News.  Alan Gribben, professor of English at Auburn University spoke on the reasoning behind his editing of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, with his main focus on the former.  Gribben replaced the n-word with the word “slave” and the word “Injun” with “Indian” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

           Gribben starts out by saying that his edited version is not for everyone (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben says that teachers are finding it “uncomfortable” to get books like the ones mentioned here in the classroom (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  He mentions that Huckleberry Finn is “fourth most-challenged book” according to the American Library Association (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben says that teachers feel like they should use other books because of the use of these racial slurs (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben says “it seems to me that this small change enables us to set aside a word that has inflamed all discussions of the book now for 30 or 40 years” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”). 

           Gribben argues that even though he changed the two words, the books still demonstrates racial relations (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben also says that the book “belongs to America as much as it belongs to the author,” when asked if the books could still be considered written by Mark Twain (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  But does that mean that he can rewrite history, as a librarian who contacted the program mentioned?  Gribben even admitted that he was “sure that Twain used the word rather almost without too much thought, because after all, he was part of the Realist movement. He was simply trying to evoke what language prevailed in that part along Mississippi River in the 1840s when he grew up” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

           The n-word and the word “Injun” are part of history; they were a part of life.  To take those words out of these novels is to destroy part of American history.  Besides, the n-word is still used today.  I went to a high school that was 50% African American, and the African Americans called each other the n-word, or some variation of it.  If it is used by students in schools today, why bother taking it out of the books that they are reading?  In fact, Shirley wrote in to the program that the n-word is used in a lot of pop culture, so it shouldn’t be taken out of the novel (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  In her words, taking the n-word out of the novel is setting a “really bad precedent” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Shirley was African-American (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Even the host of the show said “it’s not as if the students and sophomores in that class at Portland, Michigan, don’t hear them” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben countered that argument by saying that his books were one place where students wouldn’t be forced to read the word (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

           I also find the following statement about the n-word by Gribben interesting:

Many teachers have told me that for the younger readers, it’s difficult to look at a word used five or six times on a page and remember the teacher saying, now, remember, Mr. Twain didn’t mean this (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

Gribben was saying that Twain did not mean the n-word (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  I beg to differ.  Mark Twain didn’t mean “slave,” he meant the n-word: that’s why he wrote the n-word and not “slave!”  If he meant to write “slave,” he would have written it.  But he didn’t, he clearly meant the n-word!  Also, the n-word likely had a different connotation in the 1800s.  It would be like saying “African American” now.

            One of the callers, Jason, said that Gribben’s book was a different book from Twain’s because the n-word was used “intentionally” in the original (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  I tend to agree with the caller.  Gribben counteracts that argument by saying that a reader “would overlook a great deal in the book if he thinks this is not Mark Twain. Intact in the book are the criticisms of certain types of religion, the satiric attacks on all sorts of targets that Huck encounters along the river, many, many attacks on slavery itself” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben points out that “slave” has a negative connotation as well (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

            Gribben points to experiences with teachers and students as a main reason for editing Twain’s books: “I’ve just had a number of personal experiences that – and many, many conversations with teachers and with general readers and with students that led me to believe that some segment of the reading audience would appreciate another option than being confronted with that word so many times. That’s not an ordinary word. That is a – quite a hateful word in today’s society” (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  Gribben said that his editing provides more accessibility, increases readership: Huckleberry Finn can now be read in school where it may have otherwise been prohibited (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

            A caller and teacher named Mary Lee agreed with Gribben.  Mary Lee likes the edited book, because it takes away obstacles with parents not liking the n-word (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).  The host mentioned that Mary Lee was in the minority from what callers and people writing in were saying (“Publisher Edits Twain Classics to Remove Slurs”).

            Personally, I think that the “offensive” words should be left in the novels.  They may be offensive now, but they were part of history, context, and everyday life when the novels were written.  Students use the word among themselves, so they should not have any problem reading it.  In fact, they probably find it funny that they can say it and not get in trouble!  Replacing such words is destroying a piece of history and culture.  If you take the words out of Twain’s novels, then you are erasing a piece of culture and history.

Works Cited

Publisher Edits Twain Classics To Remove Slurs.  “Talk of the Nation.”  NPR.  05 Jan. 2011.  Web.  27 Feb. 2011.

Advertisements

About Allison L. Goodman

I am a stay-at-home wife and mother. I fill my days making taking care of my daughter, encouraging others, cooking meals for my family, managing my resources through DIY projects, and writing.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Re-writing Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer

  1. Michele Beverly says:

    Very thorough discussion, much more comprehensive. You inform and provide a point of view! Well done!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s