Debate Forum Topic 01/19/11

Debate Forum Topic 01/19/11

New Versions of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer lose the “N-word

Editor’s note: This conversation contains language that some may find offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

Last week, the NewSouth, Inc. publishing company of Alabama, announced it will be releasing an altered version of Mark Twain’s classics, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the altered version, the word “nigger” is replaced with the word “slave,” and the word “injun” is replaced by the word “Indian.”

Prof Alan Gribben is the editor of the revised version of Twain’s literary masterpieces, which each describe the life of two boys coming of age in the small river town of St. Petersburg, Mo. nestled along the Mississippi. Twain uses the vernacular of the day, “nigger,” in both books to describe runaway slave, Jim, in particular, and all blacks in the book in general. Gribben is adamant that his edits to the original books in switching the “N-word” for “slave” are not robbing Twain’s works of meaning or context. He argues that he is merely making a small change so that English teachers are no longer embarrassed to read out loud in class.

The removal of the word “N-word,” which is printed 219 times in “Huckleberry Finn, has cultural commentators loudly objecting to what they consider political correctness run amuck and warning that the liberal thought police having taken control of our institutions.

Randall L. Kennedy, an American law professor at Harvard University, is among a large group of black commentators who denounced Gribben last week. Kennedy is recognized as one of the world’s greatest experts on the “N-word,” having written a widely discussed social history book called “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.” Calling the decision by Gribben to scrub Twain’s books of the offending “N-word,” “… a profoundly bad idea,” Kennedy argues that by removing the “N-word”” from Mark Twain, we are losing the opportunity for English teachers to discuss the word with their classes and for students to learn about the word and its impact.

Because of the use of the “N-word,” there are, at present, a number of school districts that do not allow the books to be used as part of their curriculum. The small NewSouth, Inc. publishing company is pointing out that their version of Twain’s books will now be acceptable to those school districts. The publisher argued that if they can get these great books to a wider audience with a gentler Twain, then it’s well worth the minor changes to Twain’s original texts. It is also pointed out by critics that placing these edited Twain books in schools throughout the country, would be financially beneficial for this small publishing company.

Forum Question of the Week:

Should great works of literature which contain words that are offensive in society today be edited to remove those offending words? Should the “N-word” be removed from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?”

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