No “nigger Jim”

Vic F. writes:

You wrote:

[T]hat 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.

The fact is, nowhere in the novel is the expression “nigger Jim” used, at least that way—not by Huck or the author or anyone else. It’s a very common urban-legend-type error, but scholars, pundits, and ordinary citizens have kept it alive for more than a century.

These days, with word-search capability, it’s easy to check. There is exactly one “nigger Jim” in the book. Huck writes a note in his crude style:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.

Three times it says something like “[the] nigger, Jim.” And that’s it! Over 200 “niggers” in the book and never anything like “Nigger Jim.”

Regarding the current bowdlerization controversy, when I read the book aloud to my kids I found the “nigger” stuff awkward, so I prepared my own edition so to speak, improvising and paraphrasing as I went along. But a hard-copy censored edition is insufferable in the totalitarian atmosphere of today. You’re required to say “the N word” in the most stupid degrading way. Look at the reporter in Philadelphia, fired for saying “nigger”—not using the word, but discussing when you can and cannot say it. And meanwhile “nigger” flows freely and hilariously (from blacks and even some whites) into every living room on the comedy channels.

Look what we’ve come to. Here is Rich Lowry writing at National Review:

Editing out the word eases the sting of Twain’s rebuke of mid-19th-century conventions. It is Jim, the character who is demeaned and hunted like an animal, who is most humane. While Huck’s father is an ignorant drunk who beats and robs him, Jim desperately misses his own family, and his conscience lashes him for having once hit his daughter unjustly. Huck reflects on this and remarks, “He was a mighty good n——, Jim was.”

Duh, you just struck the offending word. Wake up.

LA writes:

My comment about Huck constantly saying “nigger Jim” was made from memory and evidently incorrect. I read the book in college and haven’t looked at it in many years.

That’s funny about Lowry. It’s exactly what I would expect of that incomparable lightweight. To call him an empty suit would be to grant him too much. Indeed, Lowry’s act of blanking out the word “nigger” even while criticizing the practice is so foolish that even NR contributor Shannon Coffin rebukes him (very gently) for it.

“Rich” Lowry, the vacant-faced editor of
America’s flagship conservative magazine

However, on the bowdlerization, it may be worse than we thought. In order to check out what you said about the absence of the expression “nigger Jim,” I found Huck Finn at Google books, did a search for “nigger,” and it said “no results found in this book for nigger.”

Vic replies:

See the attached Word document (for research purposes only). At first glance it may look unreadable, but it will give the desired flavor. What I think I have is all the appearances of “nigger” in the book, plus what I tried to do was extract the line before and after to provide a little context.

It’s a quick and dirty job but somebody has to do it (not Google).

LA replies:

Agreed it’s a bit hard to read at first, but it does contain 207 of the 219 instances of the word that appear in the novel. Thanks much for this.

January 8

James S. writes:

You’re using an abridged version of Huckleberry Finn to search for the word nigger. There are original version available on Google books in which the word does appear.

LA replies:

That must be some super abridged version, if all 219 instances of the word are not in it.

James S. writes:

Well it was published by “Fast Track Classics.” Also, I just noticed it says on the cover that it’s a retelling.

LA replies:

Ahh, I missed that. A retelling. That’s the ticket.

But “Fast Track Classics” sounds like a joke. Like “Aeschylus for Dummies.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 07, 2011 02:22 PM | Send

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