Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Censoring Mark Twain

I don't even know where to start with this one.  Via Memeorandum, there's a new edition of Huck Finn coming out with the n-word completely excised and replaced with "slave":

"...Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the "n" word (as well as the "in" word, "Injun") by replacing it with the word "slave."

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he's spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

This is the most idiotic thing I've ever heard.  Are we now going to go back and rewrite every classic text in which there is some term that offends some group?  Talk about political correctness gone amok!  A commenter at Joe.My.God said:

Hey, if this works out, they could do a little cleanup on Anne Frank's diary. Like make the whole thing a big understanding about the Nazis rounding up "juice" instead of "jews" and everybody laughs at the crazy mixup. Zany hijinks ensue from there.  

I couldn't agree more.  How about Gone With The Wind?  Can we clean that one up, too? 

I've been teaching To Kill a Mockingbird for eleven years.  Each time, before we read, we have the discussion about the language.  I explain to students the context of the word, the setting of the novel, and they learn that Atticus finds the term offensive:

"Don't say nigger Scout.  That's common."  (Chapter 9).  

Scout learns that Atticus views racism and prejudice as a "disease" that takes over normally clear headed people. 

There's a context. 

If you go back and start censoring the language in classic novels you'll remove certain potential for critical thinking from our curriculum.  Just tell the kids what to think; don't let them figure anything out for themselves!  Let's clean up Shakespeare while we're at it; it's certainly bawdy enough.  Is that the next target?

Until we clean up the degrading and offensive language in hip-hop, I don't think there's a leg to stand on here.


Hutch said...

sounds like censorship and the doing away of our right of "freedom of speech" to me...sounds like these people need to read the Constitution along with the new Congress.....

Nikki said...

Censorship for sure, and "slave" is a synonym for the n-word? I don't know the context of the passage(s), but what kind of message is THAT sending? And I agree, if it's going to be censored in books, shouldn't it be censored everywhere? it's ridiculous. I have a good friend at work who is African-American, and I asked him about it just to get his take on it, and he thinks it's a stupid attempt to rewrite history and that they need to leave it alone.

Andy said...

Pat, thanks for giving us the heads-up on this.

Jeez Louise! Jeepers Creepers! Crap, Crud, and Criminey!

I swear...I do not want to live in a society that can not tolerate the word "nigger." Not when black folks can use it daily as a pejorative, and white folks get shot for uttering those two little syllables back to back.

This is almost as bad as some retard that wanted to edit the KJV of the Bible because it used the word "pisseth."

Well, I'm pissethed off now because of your post!


Thanks! I haven't been pissethed off very good in a while!

Jazz One said...

Pat, I completely agree with you. I think you have to look at the works in the context of their time.
I think Gribben's heart and intentions are in the right place, but it is what it is. As much as I love this country, there are times in our history where it gets kind of ugly. This book was set in an ugly part of our history. One of the things I've learned in life if you can't change the past. You can learn from it. The only thing we can change is the present and the future.
The same word gets bleeped out of rap cd's at Walmart. It is what it is.
For those who have a problem feeling that they "can't use the word", in your day is there a time where you are really missing it? When do you think is the proper time to use the word?

Andy said...

Hey JazzOne, good point. I do not think using "nigger" in my daily life would ever be productive.

I was raised right (born in 1959 to wonderful parents). And, I was taught by my folks to not say "nigger" when referring to black folks. Even though they grew up in the 40's-50s when it was in common usage, they realized that the times they were a'changin'. They knew that their children would live in a different world than theirs.

They taught us not to hurt anyone with our tongue. They were/are Christian folk with love for all.

But, it does give me a full-blown case of the reds still when I look at the perpetually offended crowd that will file a lawsuit over some stupid "ho" greeting card from Hallmark (that they were too tone-deaf to hear correctly), and then laugh uncontrollably when a negro comedian uses the term in a set.

I reckon I just need to grow up, and swallow the fact that "it is what it is."

Anonymous said...

To Jazz One:

When is there a proper time to use the "n" word?

A better question would be when is there a proper time to not use it. A word is just a sound unless it is given meaning. In other words, it shouldn't be used when it would be fairly construed as being used as an insult.

You can say something is what it is, but what it is will vary from person to person. So actually it isn't what it is. It is what you assign it to be and then pass judgement on it and expect the rest of us to abide by it.

Was the time ugly in this country because the "n" word was used? Or for other reasons?

Randall Williams said...

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are masterpieces, and Alan Gribben has spent a career championing them.

His new edition of Twain's two boy books is intended to do two things: reunite the two books as Twain intended, and make them accessible to today's students who are not presently reading them because they or their teachers are offended by the repetitious use of a single word.

Would it be better for these teachers to have the training and the classroom time to teach the context of Twain's use of "nigger"? Of course. But they don't. It seems better then to introduce the students to this edited volume than to have them forgo the novels altogether. If they read this edition and fall in love with Twain's storytelling and are seized by the power of the humanity between Huck and Jim, then perhaps they will go on to read and reread — as we and I am sure you do — the original texts.

Meanwhile, can you seriously assert that Twain's skill and meaning have been stricken from this passage:

>>>> I had to tell Jim I didn’t find out how far it was to Cairo. He was pretty sorry. There warn’t nothing to do, now, but to look out sharp for the town, and not pass it without seeing it. He said he’d be mighty sure to see it, because he’d be a free man the minute he seen it, but if he missed it he’d be in the slave country again and no more show for freedom. Every little while he jumps up and says:
“Dah she is!”
But it warn’t. It was Jack-o-lanterns, or lightning-bugs; so he set down again, and went to watching, same as before. Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free—and who was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn’t rest; I couldn’t stay still in one place. It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it staid with me and scorched me more and more. I tried to make out to myself that I warn’t to blame, because I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn’t no use, conscience up and says, every time, “But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody.” That was so—I couldn’t get around that, noway. That was where it pinched. Conscience says to me, “What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her slave go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, she

Randall Williams said...

tried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every way she knowed how. That’s what she done.”
I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead. I fidgeted up and down the raft, abusing myself to myself, and Jim was fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Every time he danced around and says, “Dah’s Cairo!” it went through me like a shot, and I thought if it was Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness.
Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.
It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, “give a slave an inch and he’ll take an ell.” Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this slave which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm. <<<<

Gribben changed two words in those 550 words. Can you find them? And if you can, can you honestly tell me that it makes more difference to you to leave them in than it does to a black child in an Alabama classroom to take them out?

Meanwhile, you might want to read Gribben's introduction. See www.newsouthbooks.com.

Jazz One said...

Part 1

Obviously for other reasons.

Our Declamation of Independence says "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This was written by a slave owner. This was people owning people. The idea of slave owners raping their slaves blows my mind. There were a lot of cappuccino/caramel colored babies born in slavery. This would be children of slave owners that were still slaves. Broken treaties with Native American tribes. Internment camps. Read up on domestic violence in this country. It's not always been roses here in this country. There are some ugly things in our past. I love this country, but I don't use rose colored glasses when I look at it.
When I say "it is what it is", I mean these things did happen.

Jazz One said...

Part 2
I don't get what you are saying about when is there not a proper time not to use it. How many times a day do you feel the desire to say that word? Please give me three examples of human interaction where you would like to use that word.
When is it proper for a German to say "kike", "hymie", etc? I agree that words are just sounds, it has a lot to do with intent. With ethnic slurs, the intent is rarely good.

As an artist and writer, I am more appalled by the altering of the artist's work. All art isn't pretty. Sometimes it is ugly. Sometimes it reflects our own ugliness. Sometimes it reflects the ugliness of the time.
This is not the first time literary works have been censored.
Shakespeare is censored in schools also. In Macbeth Act II Scene III, The part about drinking and ,ahem, erectile dysfunction is left out.

Anonymous said...

I personally believe Mark Twain would rather them not read his book at all if those two words were taken out of it. It is not a point of the meaning being changed, but rather our rights being taken away from us. The original story is beautiful, and inspiring. As far as teachers not having enough time to teach the context of the story, I say that is garbage. If you can't teach the context, just don't teach it. I am a teacher, and every book I've made the students read, there has been ample time to discuss contexts.