Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

martes, enero 04, 2011

Just Edit Out The Offensiveness

Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain's classic novel, was initially published in 1884. And it has survived as an important book for more than a century without being edited. For offensiveness. Or more specifically to eliminate offensive, racist words.

Today NPR reports "New Edition Of 'Huckleberry Finn' Will Eliminate Offensive Words":

Saying they want to publish a version that won't be banned from some schools because of its language, two scholars are editing Mark Twain's classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to eliminate uses of the "N" word and replace it with "slave," Publishers Weekly writes.

The edition, from NewSouth Books, will also shorten an offensive reference to Native Americans.

As PW says, "for decades, [Huckleberry Finn] has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word."

One of the scholars, Alan Gribben of Auburn University, tells PW that "this is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind. ... Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century." (The edited Huck Finn will be included in a volume with Tom Sawyer.)

So, the "N" word will be rendered "slave," and the offensive reference to Native Americans will be, well, slightly excised, and that will solve the problem, it is contended. These changes, which modify a century old work that is of fundamental importance to understanding American literature, are supposed to prevent know-nothing school boards from further banning the book. We're not going to fight banning. No. We're going to cave in and change the words. Put another way, the ignoramuses have won.

Yes, Huckleberry Finn contains offensive language. It was intended to be offensive. And it should stay in the book. The objectionable language might show people who are capable of reading something about race in America and that inappropriate language about race has been a volatile part of America's history. Avoiding that difficult discussion by editing this book's words is the worst sort of cop-out. The words don't go away just because they are changed. And they won't go away if they are hidden.

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