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.

NewSouth Books will release a single volume containing both novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, overseen by Twain scholar Alan Gribben, Publisher’s Weekly said. In both, the n-word is replaced with the word “slave” and the word “Injun” is removed.

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colourblind,” said Mr Gribben, the head of the English department at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

The n-word appears 219 times in the current edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, including the table of contents. The racially-charged language has resulted in the book being banned from many grade school curricula and libraries over the decades despite its status as a classic of American literature.

Mr Gribben said he was inspired by speaking with teachers who were disappointed that the language in the book prevented them from teaching it.

“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,” he said. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs.”

Another Twain scholar, Thomas Wortham, argued that altering Twain’s text will make for a book that “doesn’t challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?’”

But Suzanne La Rosa, one of the cofounders of NewSouth Books, said the new edition does not replace the other editions of Twain’s works on the market.

“We recognised that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind,” she said. “But our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there—all of them, in fact—that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable [ … ] insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.”

NewSouth Books plans to have its edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in US shops by February.

[end of article]

- end of initial entry -

James N. writes:

Suzanne LaRosa said, apropos of her butchery of Huckleberry Finn, ” … insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful … ”

Does anybody really believe this? That the use of the term “nigger” is, in actual fact, “so incredibly hurtful”?

I find the concept absurd. I don’t use the word, it is sufficient for me to know that (some) Negroes find it distasteful. I was brought up to be a gentleman, and gentlemen don’t give unnecessary offense.

But there is a social space between “I don’t like ‘X’”, and, “‘X’ is incredibly hurtful.” What has happened with the Negro population since 1963 is that ALL the works and ways of the majority culture have been collapsed into “incredibly hurtful” or its companion, “incredibly hateful.” Whether this demonstration of mass insanity is a pretense, or whether the descendants of the slaves have actually come to believe this, is unknown to me.

But the whites don’t understand that it has happened. And, being the kindly and generous people that we are, we recoil from ANYTHING we might do that is “incredibly hurtful”—soon to include breathing, I suspect.

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.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. There’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak.

By the year 2050—earlier probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of The Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” …

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.

However, it seems to me that the word appeared many more than 104 times. 104 times would be just once every ten pages. I think it was far more than that.

What did you do—search the Google books version of 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. Cary

LA 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

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