Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is offensive!

The Guardian (and seemingly just about everyone else) is reporting that a new US edition of Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be released with all uses of the word 'nigger' excised. Now, first of all, I'm sure that we can all agree that nigger is an extremely offensive word that should never be used in today's society to describe anyone. But to do this to one of America's greatest literary works is nothing more than a travesty. The publishers have justified this edit by saying they would prefer schools taught an edited version, than no Huck at all because of the language (well of course you would. You're trying to sell the book after all...). But the story is about how Finn starts off racist then becomes not racist. It seems that you're taking out quite a lot of character development. As well as a key reason for it to be taught in schools... The man responsible, Dr Alan Gribben, stated that he felt repulsed when reading the book aloud to children in his class, going on to say:
"The n-word possessed, then as now, demeaning implications more vile than almost any insult that can be applied to other racial groups,"
Well, that's as maybe, but you cannot just go around deleting bits of history. This is the way people spoke in that region, during the time period in which the novel is set. In this humble commentator's opinion it is surely more offensive to pretend that such racism never occurred than to educate children about their history. If we're going to pretend that we weren't racist in the past, shall we also forget the holocaust, cause that wasn't very nice either? Or the World Wars in general, because that's humans at our worst too. Going further back, what about the Crusades? Where/when do we stop? Apparently Gribben has also stated that he cannot understand the hoo-ha people are making because it's only a few words and Twain would approve anyway. I mean really. They are only a few words, but you didn't write them. You can't just go around changing other people's books to ease your over-active conscience. And we'll never know if Twain would approve, but if it were me I'd have climbed out of my grave and be tucking in to a bit of Gribben brains right about now...


  1. Far be it for me to be another white liberal striking out for what should and should not offend black people, but the book was written that way on purpose - nigger has always been an offensive world, rightly so of course, but it's particular use highlighted the brutal nature of racism. It is meant to cause offense, you are meant to disapprove of it's use in the book.

    Plus, I'm against censoring any book. Except my own, if ever finish it. Not on racial grounds. Just because it'll suck.

  2. Well precisely. Also, it has since come to my attention that Mark Twain approved of changes to his work as much as we do, saying on one occasion "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter". Furthermore, when a printer made punctuation changes to another of his works he wrote letter that he had "given orders for the typesetter to be shot without giving him time to pray". I wonder what he'd do to Dr Gribben?


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