Keith Olberman last night (Tuesday, January 4, 2011) opened a piece of his program by saying he was not sure that what was happening with the new “edition” of HUCKLEBERRY FINN was indeed censorship. I, of course, calm and collected, was already screaming at the TV. In case you have not hears, there is a new “edition” (and I am using ironic air quotes here) of HUCKLEBERRY FINN that removes that pesky “N” word and other references that apparently prevent some from reading the book since it is often a challenged text in schools. OK, where to begin here:
1. Twain did not write this book for children. HF is written, BTW, at about a 5th grade reading level. So, do not talk to me about the rigor of the literary canon here. Don’t get me wrong. I have read HF multiple times including in college classes. I did not read it in middle or high school. I am not certain that most middle school kids would get the deeper meaning. Ditto mist high school readers.
2. Changing words of the author is, indeed, censorship. These are not revisions for a more PC version of the text. This is much more. It is changing the intent of the author (IMHO since we cannot totally verify this with Twain). That “N” word is a difficult one to encounter in the text. In addition to it being the word used during this time period, it serves to underscore the relationship of Jim and Huck and to demonstrate the change that takes place, albeit partially and slowly, on the part of Huck.
3. If it is not censorship, then let’s take any novel with “offensive” words or situations and revise them and make them available for readers. Let’s see, I do not care for the death of OLD YELLER, so let’s give this one a happy ending. And how about Lincoln survives the assassination attempt? Or Willie Loman finds happiness as a salesman? Or Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after?
I will say that Olberman’s guest (and the name escapes me) did verify that this was censorship and that by substituting the word slave for the “N” word, the revision did more damage than the original. We need to SpeakLoudly about this and any other attempts to make classic texts more PC. Seems to me the better options are to find a more contemporary text or use the classic and actually point out why the offensive words are used. But who am I? Not a revisionist author, for sure.