Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Censoring Huckleberry Finn

******RANT WARNING******

So I'm sure most of you have heard about the new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This new special version has two controversial words--"nigger" and "injun"--replaced throughout the text with "slave" and "native". The reason for the censorship is to make the book more accessible to students who might be turned off to the book if they saw words that are today considered racist.

I understand that the "n" and "i" words are deeply offensive, and not just to racial minorities. I even understand how someone could make a case for changing the words in order to get a wider readership in high schools and a less controversial classroom discussion.


This is censorship, plain and simple, and if it becomes common practice then we're effectively allowing non-authors to determine the content and language of someone else's creative work.

It's not like this is a new argument--most older books (especially classics) have something that could be considered offensive, un-PC, or generally ignorant in modern society. That's part of the reason that they spark ongoing debates in classrooms. Confronting controversial topics is a huge part of education. Ignoring controversial topics doesn't serve anyone except a teacher or administrator who is too lazy to guide a potentially unruly discussion. And if you're that kind of teacher or administrator, I would recommend NOT reading Huckleberry Finn at all because there are much more difficult topics like slavery and child neglect to address. This book is the perfect forum for discussion about racial slurs, the evolution of language, and the history of race relations.

Of course, it's possible to have a discussion about the words without having to read the words within the text. But think about the cost of that approach. We're opening the floodgates on censorship if that becomes an acceptable solution.

I'll end my rant with a quote from Mark Twain, provided for me by the Christian Science Monitor:

"I wrote 'Tom Sawyer' & 'Huck Finn' for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave."

1 comment:

Whaler said...

I never knew he considered it to be written for adults, and honestly that makes a lot of sense. I would rather see it just not taught in schools than censored if that is the case.