A new edition of Huckleberry Finn, with “nigger” changed to “slave”
(Note, January 7: A reader informs us that it’s not correct that Huck says, “Nigger Jim,” though it’s been widely reported, including by yours truly, that he does.)
This is not exactly about liberals prohibiting an offensive word. This is about liberals trying to get around what is to them an unbearably offensive word in order to enable teachers to teach a great book which at present they feel they cannot teach because of that offensive word. At the same time, that a classic of American literature has been banned from schoolrooms for all these years because its narrator and protagonist constantly refers to his companion, the escaped slave Jim, as “nigger Jim,” is pathetic and ridiculous. Couldn’t these liberal teachers simply tell themselves and their students that that’s the way people talked back then, and make their peace with it?
I recently read the 1,037 page long Gone with the Wind, and if, as the article tells us, “nigger” appears 219 times in the much shorter Huckleberry Finn, it must appear 500 times in the longer novel. Evidently that’s the way the people of that time and that society talked. Fortunately no one has yet targeted Gone with the Wind for a re-writing.
I myself read Huckleberry Finn in a college English course in 1969, at a very liberal college. As I remember, Huck’s use of “nigger” did not register as a problem, or at least not one that that triggered more than a few minutes of discussion. Yes, there was some discomfort with the word, but not enough to become an obstacle to reading and enjoying the book.
The Australian reports:
A PUBLISHER is planning to release a new edition of two of Mark Twain’s classic novels that replaces the racial slurs used throughout the books with less offensive language.
James N. writes:
Suzanne LaRosa said, apropos of her butchery of Huckleberry Finn, ” … insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful … ”Larry T. writes:
Let’s hope the book-buying public responds in a niggardly way to this new edition.LA replies:
I second that.Kristor writes:
Oh, I bet this new denigration of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer will outsell all others on the market by far. I’d be stunned if schools were not the biggest buyers of those works.James R. sends this:
“The Eleventh Edition is the definitive edition,” said Syme. “We’re getting the language into its final shape—the shape it’s going to have when nobody speaks anything else. You think our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words—scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone. In the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. The great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good’, for instance. If you have a word like ‘good’, what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well—better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good’, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning; or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. In the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. The whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words—in reality, only one word.Daniel R. writes:
“Nigger” actually appears 104 times in “Gone with the Wind.”LA replies:
That’s all? That means it’s far more frequent in Huckleberry Finn, since it is so much shorter than GWTW.Cary J. writes:
Regarding the Sawyer & Finn books, I predict there wil be a vast uproar over using “slave.” As everyone knows, the proper label is “enslaved persons,” but the actual objection will be about the new label’s focusing on the diverse black African-American peoples as slaves rather than on their individual differences and contributions. If anything, “slave” is a more soul-destroying label in the second decade of the twenty-first century than the unpalatable label it replaces. CaryLA replies:
You’re absolutely right. The way Huck refers to Jim, “nigger Jim,” must be changed, not to “slave Jim,” but to “enslaved person Jim.” Only such a change in Huck’s speech will make the novel truly accessible to the modern reader.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 04, 2011 09:47 AM | Send