Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Twain Rolls Over in Grave

First post of the New Year!  I'm not big on resolutions or anything like that but the end of 2010 taught me that I need to slow down a little.  So that's exactly what I'm doing.

On to other stuff.  So an Alabama publisher is publishing a version of Mark Twain's genius novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but replacing all instances of the infamous N-word with the word "slave."  They'll also be replacing the word "injun."  The reasoning is that school curriculums are dropping it from their roster because of the offensive word.

To which I say:  Are you kidding me?

I can't actually blame the publishers here.  They see an opportunity to make money and they're taking it.  No.  I blame the parents and teachers.  I blame every moron who can't effectively teach their child the difference between a word used in a harmful way and a word used realistically in a novel mirroring the language of the era and region.  No one likes the n-word.  It's repulsive.  It's history is repulsive.  But rewriting history to expunge it from our collective memory doesn't change anything.  In fact, it simply retards our ability to learn from our mistakes.  Every child who reads the N-word in Huckleberry Finn SHOULD feel shame that we ever used words like that and take it as a lesson to never, ever let our society treat another member as a lesser class of person.

Eliminating this word from Twain's classic novel doesn't remove our collective historical guilt for its usage.  People may sit around and pat themselves on the back and say, "Look, we've learned!  Aren't we awesome?" But it doesn't change anything.  It's an awful word, but we have to understand it.  We have to keep it.  We have to hold it up as an example of what NOT to do.  Eliminating it tells kids it's okay to kill people so long as you bury the body where no one can ever see it.

And sadly, this only opens the floodgates.  Eliminate the n-word and injun.  Next it'll be faggot and cracker and redneck and kike and skinhead and fat and skinny and on and on and on. Yes, these words are hurtful but it's intent that makes words hurtful. Any word that some group finds offensive will be on the chopping block.  You think that maybe I'm being alarmist but this sets a precedence.  It says that it's okay to remove offensive words from use.  It's okay to censor.  It's okay to forget.

And what comes after words?  Images?  Do we eliminate the statue of David because people find the penis offensive?  Do we throw a sheet over the Venus de Milo because breasts are offensive?

Here's the thing:  removing the word doesn't remove the hate.  Just because you take away a murderer's knife doesn't mean he won't kill you another way.  If we want to change people, if we want to make this a world where the n-word is just a word that ignorant people once used, then we need to leave books like Huckleberry Finn alone.  We need to grow a set and let kids see for themselves how backwards we were, so that they can see an example of what we don't want to be.

Anyone who buys this bastardized book should be ashamed.


  1. I guess I should be surprised at this, but I'm really not. More and more, it seems like we have to be too politically correct and overly sensitive in everything we do.

    Yes, it is repugnant to use those particular words in any way. But as you say, they are reflective of the time. And we can't ignore the accurate history of humanity - no matter where we look. Instead of altering what we find distasteful, we should be learning from it.

    As a father, I've had to deal with these kinds of questions with respect to my own sons. And rather than soften the blow, I told them the real truth. I then went on however, to explain why such things are wrong and why it is beneath us to behave in such a manner.

    Thanks for bringing this to light, Shaun. It's tragic, but hopefully people will read what you've written here and avoid this book like the plague.

  2. Eric- I wish more parents were like you. People seem to see censoring books or removing them from circulation as a viable alternative to explaining to kids what certain things mean. It doesn't make sense to me. Not only does it disregard the great works of fiction being censored, but it treats children like idiots and tells them it's okay.

    I don't know, this just really burns me up, but I'm glad there are awesome parents like you out there fighting the good fight.

  3. This is ridiculous. I know, let's just pretend that things like rape and murder and incest don't happen. Then no one will do them anymore!

    Come on people.

  4. Awesome post! You expressed my thoughts on this exactly. What really gets me is how so many parents don't understand that banning (or changing) books will only make kids more curious about those books and compel them to lie to their parents about what they're reading.

    I make it a point to read whatever my kids are reading so I know what they're being exposed to, and I will admit, there are books I haven't let them read--yet. They're still pre-teens and some of the stuff that's out there would seriously traumatize them at this age. But that's my job, as their mother, to protect them from those things until they're ready, not the job of some school board, much less a book publisher.

    Okay, I could go on for days about this, so I'll shut up now.

    Again, great post, Shaun! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

  5. Matthew - I suppose that's what's people are hoping for. People seem willing to sweep the nastiness of life under the carpet rather than deal with it.

    Abby - You're so right! I was so curious when I was a kid. If anyone had told me NOT to read something, I would have found a way to read it. The sad part is that by whitewashing Huck, they'll make it more likely that kids will find the original and not understand the context. I mean, I know kids are smart, so I don't want to not give them enough credit, but its our jobs as educators and role models and parents to make sure that the edgy stuff kids read is contextualized.

  6. My mom once tore the sex scenes out of one of the Clan of the Cave Bear books that I was reading. When I discovered what she'd done (as it was 1. obvious and 2. I'd already read the I knew what was missing) I was A. horrified she'd defaced a book simply to keep me from reading something and B. amused to the point of peeing my pants she thought that would stop me from reading stuff like that. I just started hiding the books I was reading from her if I thought she wouldn't like them.

    You know, kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Did I know it would be a bad idea for me to act like the characters in that book...sure. I was a smart kid. Reading those scenes wasn't going to make me frantic to go find some Neanderthal to go make out with....anymore than reading the N-word in Huckleberry Finn made me run out and start using it.

    I've been reading a lot of dystopian novels lately...just finished Matched by Ally Condie in which their society chose 100 of the best poems, stories, history lessons, paintings, etc, and destroyed all the rest. I'm sure you can guess what type of art they kept. This type of censorship and control over what societies are exposed to seem to be a common thread in these novels.

    People laugh and think we'll never get that bad....but it starts slow. Taking a book and removing a few offensive words. What's next? Removing the book itself?

    History is there to learn from. Erasing it teaches no one anything.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.