Huckleberry Finn to be censored in new edition

Mark Twain

Ten days ago the literary world was sent reeling over an announcement by NewSouth Books that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn would see censorship in its newest edition. The word “nigger”, used 219 in the novel, will be replaced with “slave”. Alan Gribben, English department head at the Auburn University, put forward the idea to censor Twain’s classic so that it could be more readily accepted in schools across America. NewSouth hopes to have the censored editions printed for distribution by next month. See the full article here.

Journal staffers weigh in on NewSouth’s bold move below. Thoughts? Join the discussion by leaving a comment.

One issue I have with the replacement of what is obviously an offensive and derogatory word is the historical ramifications of changing an important piece of literature. Would the replacement of the word "nigger" with "slave" mean that students might fail to understand the racism of the time depicted in Huckleberry Finn? It may be that censored editions of the book mask the important lessons to be learned from reading the original version.

-Clare Clancy, News Editor

Replacing this word with another would place the historical context into a different perspective for readers. Readers who might want to read it, assuming historical accuracy, will not get the original perspective that the author intended. Changing the words would change the author's writing itself. It would be like taking the original version of Anna Karenina and changing the descriptive words used which were intended to be read in a particular way. It would also be changing the artistic intention of the author.

-Labiba Haque, Assistant News Editor

While I understand the merit of wanting classroom novels to be clean of such language, I question whether a move such as this could prove an even greater hindrance in students’ learning experience. How would a teacher present modified literature while speaking on the cultural, historical and social context in which it was written? Would an instructor address the replaced word, or would students be left unaware that there is a small piece of this literary work missing? It is an unfortunate thought that students may see a single word stand out more prominently than the bounty of genius which surrounds it in Mark Twain’s writing.

Terra-Ann Arnone, Web and Blogs Editor

Everything I could possibly say is said better here.

—Tyler Ball, Editor in Chief

To move away slightly from the literary or philosophical implications of changing the language, I'd like to examine this action's significance in the political-institutional realm. Specifically, I'd like to juxtapose it with another act of censorship, in order to try and gain some perspective.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) recently banned the Dire Straits song "Money For Nothing" from airing on Canadian radio stations, due to the repeated use of the word "faggot."

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/article/922477--money-for-not...

I think it's necessary to draw a distinction between censorship that seeks to reduce choice and restrict public access to something (the CBSC ruling) and censorship that seeks to increase access to something by offering an altered version.

And that's exactly what it's being presented as, an alternative: ' "I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified," [Gribben] said.'

The PW article states that the first NewSouth edition will print 7,500 copies, and makes no mention that any specific school district has requested it for use in the classroom.

Those who oppose this edition's publishing have been steeping their arguments with the implication that it reduces choice. While it's clearly a case of censorship (the ethics of which are highly debatable), I'm not convinced that it reduces freedom for consumers to access the unaltered version, or that Twain's literary integrity is facing an existential threat.

Craig Draeger, Opinions and Letters Editor

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.