The best and worst of times to misquote Huckleberry Finn
No more n-word
Mark Twain’s popular book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” went under the knife earlier this year. The book, which is 125 years old, is often required reading material on the secondary level and the text is liberally sprinkled with the “n” word. That is no longer the case, thanks to a decision by publisher NewSouth Inc., which released an excised version. The ‘n-word’ will no longer be used.
Huck Finn was originally published in the United States in 1885. Readers of the book know that “Nigger Jim,” a Black slave, is one of the main characters. Written in the vernacular of the day, Huck Finn contains frequent use of the word “nigger” when referring to Jim and other Black characters. New South’s adaptation has replaced the offending word, which is used 219 times in the original, and substituted the word “slave.”
But everyone was not happy about that.
Even among some Black scholars, the need for change was up for debate.
Syracuse University professor and cultural commentator Boyce Watkins is quoted as believing that removing the n-word makes the text “more palatable for today’s schoolchildren and therefore more useful in modern classrooms.” This is very true, especially when considering how Black children who are made to read the original version aloud in class must feel. Watkins asks if the novel can still makes its point without the word being used.
However, former Essence editor, Micahela Angela Davis explained in a CNN interview that she doesn’t think the book should have been tampered with.
“I think this is so problematic on so many levels,” Davis said. “It’s not just history, it’s literature, so it’s art. When we get into really censoring art and censoring literature, we open up a Pandora’s box. When we get into changing words, unwriting history, rearranging art, we start to put our democracy in danger. This is not making it palatable; this is censorship.”
Despite the varying opinions, the new version of the book is now being distributed across the country and read in schools everywhere.
Who could have guessed that Huck Finn’s bad-boy antics would cause problems 125 years after he sprang from the fertile mind of author Mark Twain? What has Huck done now? Well, it’s not so much what he’s done as what he said—in this case, his liberal use of the n-word. Publisher NewSouth, Inc., spurred on by members of academia, has decided to revise the classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by excising the word. The edited version is due to hit bookstores in mid-February.
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