*uck Finn – 4 Reasons Why The N Word Should Stay In

They're not okay with the n-word, but are okay with kids running away, stealing stuff and smoking. Got it!

You remember Huck Finn, right? The book about a boy and his slave friend who run away and learn about each other. Oh yeah, and they say the n-word a bunch. You know, because it was set in the American South, pre-Civil War and that’s kinda what people did.

But a new edition of the book is coming out and the publishers of the book will replace the ethnic slur with the word “slave.”  You know, to make the book less offensive. Because owning slaves is totally okay as long as you call them nice names…or something like that. It’s hard to be clear on exactly what the publisher’s goal is, but they say it’s not about PC-tastic censorship.

The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it. “Race matters in these books,” Gribben told [Publisher’s Weekly]. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

 

Now, I get it, the word makes some people uncomfy**.

Not her, though.

But that doesn’t mean we should just strike it from the record completely.

Here are four reasons I think Huck Finn should stay just the way it is.

1. More Oreos! A selfish reason for sure, but nothing made me want to escape my skin quite like sitting in a classroom with my peers reading these books aloud. Sure, I hated the stares I got when someone mentioned Twain, or anything to do with Civil Rights, Martin Luther King or firehoses, but it put me on a path toward just the right amount of self loathing to take up some hobbies more interesting than gospel singing or dominoes.

2. Equal Opportunity Offense. There’s something in pretty much every book that’s going to offend most anybody. Should we take out references to sex or the church in The Scarlett Letter lest we offend people who pray or put out (or, like myself…both. :)? Should we take out half the words in anything written by Dickens because it’s just so g*dammed long and that is offensive in and of itself? Should we stop the production of Tyler Perry movies because they’re just offensive to everyone?  Nah. A little thicker skin is good for everyone.

3. Keep the word somewhat safe. If we remove the n-word from classic works of literature, the only people dealing with it are plucky talk show hosts like Dr. Laura and the hip hop and rap industry. I don’t know about you, but I totally trust one of the greatest American writers of all time over the the guy who wrote the song “Bitches Aint Shit.”

4. And seriously…yes, the n-word is pretty damn offensive. But if we lose sight of how offensive it is and the damage that it caused and causes, then we run the risk of perpetuating those offenses and creating them anew.

5. Too Much Change! If we start changing the words in Huck Finn, then it’s only a matter of time before someone changes the libretto to Big River, the Broadway musical written about that story. And I already have the current version commited to memory. Not ready to re-learn all that music! Seriously, listen to these harmonies. That’s a lot of work!

What do you think? Let us know!

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10 comments

  1. Rewatched Blazing Saddles this weekend. I had forgotten just how often they said the n word. So, so, so often. And it never once stopped being awful, of course it didn’t, but I’m fairly certain that was the point.

    I think the more appropriate action, regarding Huck Finn, would be to do something zany like provide context. A forward discussing the usage of the word at the time the book was written and leading up into today’s society. Maybe have a list of additional reading about racism. I mean, sure, thinking IS awful hard. But I’ve found it’s usually worth the effort.

    *gets off soapbox*

      1. Oh, I know, it’s a radical notion that might encourage critical thinking and other scary things. But mom was a hippie and I’m afraid I just never really socialized properly into modern society. 😀

  2. It is despicable to me that anyone would presume to go back and change a work of art for ANY reason (to me this is like those anti-smoking people who want to go back and edit out cigarettes from classic hollywood films). I agree with the above comment. Yes! Let’s please have people take responsibility for providing context and educating their children (parents and teachers). This kind of censorship will not solve any problems. Censorship like this to me is like a war on words, which is like a war on terror. You can’t win it. At no point will zealous censorship advocates be able to say “Well! We did it! Nobody is using that word anymore! Yay!” And even if they could, it STILL wouldn’t solve any problems. I think that being able to discuss the issue intelligently is far more effective than any form of censorship.

  3. I think the thing about Dickens is it’s full of desperate poor people. And that’s just no fun to read about in a book of any length. Same with Steinbeck. Grapes of Wrath? Really? Can’t we cheer that book up a bit? What about Dan Brown? All those confusing symbols and stuff?

    Should we just dumb down the world so the lowest common idiot feels good about themselves? So that no one is offended? God forbid someone has their ideas challenged and maybe learn something. Teachable moments need to happen.

    Mark Twain would slap these people with a cease and desist order. If he weren’t dead for the past 100 years.

  4. When I saw Big River at a college, there was a disclaimer in the program that warned of pejorative language in reference to Jim. I guess they wanted to make sure they warned the people who didn’t know anything about the book and wouldn’t see it coming a mile away, but I’m thinking it was more than likely just general CYA action. After all, why not just take the PC route instead of the personal responsibility route?

    I wonder how long it will be before they get so uptight that they even bleep out the made-up racist language in things like Harry Potter, words like “S—b” and “M–blood” and “B—d t—–r” (isn’t that how the old-fashioned Oreotastic literature bleeped swear words)?

  5. Should we take out half the words in anything written by Dickens because it’s just so g*dammed long and that is offensive in and of itself?
    Yes. Yes we should. Cut all those books in half.
    It best time. It worst time.
    Caveman speak is easier to understand. Much better.

    But leave Twain alone. Riverboats and whitewashing beat street urchins and dying children any day 🙂

  6. The idea that an “expert” is the one that spearheaded the changes is galling to me. The power of Twain’s writing, both at the time and now, is that it captured the vernacular as no writer had before.

    What does it add to the story to change one word? If someone wanted to write a re-imagining of the story set in modern times, that would be a different subject. To change one word reeks of trying to cleans that part of history, which would only really serve to rob the book of its place.

    People are idiots.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head right there. If you change anything, it had better be a new setting. People do remakes of movies all the time. And what about those [Jane Austen book]and Zombies/Sea Monsters/etc. books? That’s a new take on things, not a “cleaning up” as it were. If you’re going to call it the original, leave it as the original, and if people don’t like it, then they should voice their opinions and write critiques, not change the original.

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