Whitewashing Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the great works of American literature.  I guess I haven’t been paying much attention, but when I heard that the work had been banned in some school districts – left off the curriculum because of the repeated use of the word nigger, I was shocked.  Granted, seeing the N word in print would be shocking to a modern reader, taken out of the historical context in which the book was written.  To object simply based on the N word is to completely miss the point of this classic masterpiece.   Yes, the N word is derogatory – it was then and is now.  But it is a fact that people used the term in the antebellum South along the Mississippi. Twain captures the vernacular of the period making it an authentic archive of American history.   To remove the work from the high school or college cannon of literature based on a word is nothing short of a crime and reflects an out of control PC atmosphere or worse an ideological bias masquerading as PC.

For the record, Mark Twain was not a racist.  In fact, he was against slavery, supported the abolitionist movement and praised Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  Jim, the runaway former slave in the novel, is depicted as an intelligent, resourceful and courageous man who values freedom, family and above all, friendship.  He is a true American hero.  People who call for the work to banned or sanitized have either not read it, read it and missed the point , or have a problem with its progressive ideology.  The other explanation could be that educators are afraid to discuss the complicated issues of race for fear that the N word would cause too much conflict, open up old wounds or result in a lawsuit from a parent who might object to their child reading the work.  Teachers may not know how to broach the topic, especially white teachers, who would, understandably, feel awkward saying or answering questions about it, especially in the presence of black students.  To those fearful school districts, public libraries and teachers, I have this to say  – CONTEXT and INTENT. If the historical context in which the work took place, the antebellum south, is ignored, the N word cannot be properly processed or understood.  And if the work is not taught as a comment on the injustice of slavery it would be nothing but a random collection of humorous adventure stories.

An Auburn University English professor will publish an updated version of the book replacing all the instances of the N word with the word slave.  This is absolutely preposterous. In a comedic sketch on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a commentator points out that slave is not much of an upgrade and inaccurately characterizes Jim who had already been freed.

I’ll take the Auburn University professor’s word that he wants nothing more than the work to be read by a wider audience.  However, to whitewash the work to make it more palatable for a modern reader is to cheapen Twain’s masterpiece, surrender to the PC police and would take us further down that slippery slope.

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