Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Literature, Poetry, and Books

It's finally happened.

Some schmuck is putting out a new edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the word "nigger" with "slave."

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he's spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

Discussions - 3 Comments

I just finished reading Tom Sawyer to my kids and--at 11 and 9--they knew enough to understand that the word meant something important to the story. It caused them to pause and to ask important questions. I don't think "slave" is even a reasonable translation of the word as it was used in Twain--and usually by Finn to make the important point that the deeming of a person a "nigger" is just as foolish and unjust as the deeming of him as "king." Think of the great line in Sawyer when Huck is appalled at the notion that a King would not bother with a surname . . . even Huck, who is the lowest of the low in society, has a proper surname (if not a proper Christian name). The Kings are like "niggers" he says . . . in other words, it is a silly, arbitrary, ridiculous kind of setting themselves apart from the rest of humanity. No man is a god and no man is, really, a beast. How could you convey that meaning with the paltry word "slave" used instead of "nigger"? It wasn't what Huck was feeling or meaning. It absolutely changes the importance of book. What a moron.

It will cost $25 to read Huck Finn in the new non-offensive version. If public schools make it the version of their choice, that guy will be making self-righteous faces at folks like us all the way to the bank.

Sure, Twain's language has made that time and those characters real to all of us for generations. However, it has also been objectionable to some people since publication. Maybe I am unnaturally squeamish to think it was better to ban the book in communities that objected than to purge it like this.

Yet, oh, just think of the possibilities this type of "renovation" of literature might have; works of literature with similar objectionable material can be made more palatable to the pure-minded. This guy, Gribben, is right. There may be in a market in this. James Joyce or even William Burroughs might be scrubbed up and made clean and shiny for teens. The possibilities are endless, extending into antiquity.

This by Allen Guelzo is well put, including that, "The F-bomb and the C-word blip past on screens and in books without any reckoning of who is liable to be “offended” by them..."

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