The choice to remove two culturally offensive, yet historically accurate, racial terms from an upcoming edition of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" is a mistake, said [Owensboro] literature teachers.
Alan Gribben, a Twain scholar, is working with NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Ala. to release 7,500 copies of the historical novel.
However, removed from this edition will be the N-word, replaced with the word "slave," and the term "half-breed," which will become "half-blood." The book's antagonist, "Injun Joe" will have his name changed to "Indian Joe."
Local teachers had numerous reasons for disagreeing with the changes. Some simply disagree with it because it changes the historical meaning of the book.
"Twain used those words to reflect the culture of the time and its all-too-accepted use of extremely offensive language," said Nate Fish, an English teacher at Owensboro High School. "The reader is supposed to 'gasp' to some degree when reading the novel so that he/she can be outraged at how African-Americans were once treated. Replacing the language will take away from this necessary outrage."
Fish noted that the change of the language is eerily like that which took place in another piece of classic literature."I seem to remember an aspect of the Ministry of Truth in '1984' that may apply to this situation: Words were constantly being changed to reflect a meaning that went better with Big Brother's agenda," Fish said. "This went on until no one could remember the original meaning of the word or what emotional weight it once carried."
Removing the word is straight censorship, others said."I am definitely against changing the words in Huck Finn. Will we change all offensive words in the Bible, offensive words referring to the Holocaust, "1984," "Catcher in the Rye," etc.?" said Linda Kingsley, a retired chair of the English department at OHS....
In a radical departure from standard editions, Twain's most famous novels are published here as the continuous narrative that the author originally envisioned. More controversial will be the decision by the editor, noted Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben, to eliminate the pejorative racial labels that Twain employed in his effort to write realistically about social attitudes of the 1840s.
Gribben points out that dozens of other editions currently make available the inflammatory words, but their presence has gradually diminished the potential audience for two of Twain's masterpieces. "Both novels can be enjoyed deeply and authentically without those continual encounters with the hundreds of now-indefensible racial slurs," Gribben explains.
For more, read Dr. Gribben’s introduction to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition.