New Edition of "Huckleberry Finn" to Be Released Without the "N-Word"

Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben is making waves this week for announcing that he will publish a new, single-volume edition of Twain's classic (and controversial) novels "Huckleberry Finn" and "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" in which every instance of the "n-word" is replaced with the word "slave."

Gribben has nothing but good intentions in removing the racial epithet, which appears 219 times, from Twain's work. As he said in an interview with Publishers Weekly:

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyerand Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he's spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

...."I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach [Tom Sawyer], and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can't do it anymore. In the new classroom, it's really not acceptable."

Indeed, most teachers can't teach the book to students these days, as it's one of the country's most frequently banned books (HT Raw Story). And the new edition could placate the desire of school districts to avoid racially-charged controversy, theoretically making the book available to more young people. (Although I have a hard time believe that removing the word will automatically erase all controversy surrounding the book. Won't teachers have to address the word-swap with students? It seems hard to ignore.)

Meanwhile, some people have argued that removing the "n-word" from Huck Finn is no different -- or worse -- than removing f-bombs from movies for general consumption on network TV.

But understandably, many people are up in arms about the move, arguing that Gribben's edition, to be published by NewSouth Books, will whitewash the nation's history and ruin a literary classic by changing the meaning of many passages.

Speaking to Publishers Weekly, Twain scholar Thomas Wortham drew a connection between Gribben and Thomas Bowdler, who "published expurgated versions of Shakespeare for family reading." "A book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn't challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?'," said Wortham.

This Week in Blacknesseditor-in-chief Elon James White goes one step further in Salon:

The book, which deals directly with racism, is not better served by erasing the racial slur. The only purpose is to ease the tension that is felt by parents and teachers of students who would read it. To pretend this is for some higher good is to insult the intelligence of the American public. America is a society in which our ugly history is not so far gone as to allow for cold, detached analysis. Because of the mistreatment of everyone who wasn't/isn't white, straight and male, America is constantly defending itself instead of dealing head-on with the wrongs that it willingly played a role in....

America talks about race like scared parents talk with their kids about sex. We're vague, sometimes terribly misleading and on occasion leave out huge aspects of the situation that would allow kids to make better decisions about how they conduct themselves. If we continue with our horrendously skewed and willfully ignorant interpretations of history, we will find ourselves with a generation that's woefully misinformed and it will be completely our fault.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at January 5, 2011, 5:56am

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