Moral Low Ground

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‘Nigger’ Removed– 223 Times– from New Edition of Mark Twain Classics

Disclaimer: Not that it should matter, but the author of this post is half African-American, or as the late, great Dennis Hopper said to Christopher Walken, who played a Sicilian mobster in True Romance, “part eggplant.”

"Slave Jim" just doesn't sound right.

Well, this is one of those rare occasions when I find myself cozied up with some very strange bedfellows indeed. The reactionary right is fuming over a new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in which the word “nigger”– which appears 219 times in the former and four times in the latter– has been replaced with the far more innocuous word “slave.” Also gone are the pejorative “Injun” for Indian– ehem, I mean Native American.

Conservative hotheads like Fox News contributor and blogger Michelle Malkin, who calls the new, sanitized versions of these great American classics “PC-policed,” are furious. “The tiresome war on Mark Twain’s novels is older than Al Sharpton’s hair grease,” Malkin writes. “America’s schoolchildren have been robbed by ignorant censors who are too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them and feckless educators too lazy to teach them.” And guess what– she’s right. Malkin correctly points out that those who would alter or ban Huck Finn can’t see the forest for the trees: “Ah, yes. The “n-word.” Twain used it in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” 215 times, we are ceaselessly reminded by censors who are too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them. Ignore the book-burning mob chanting “racism.” This novel remains one of the most brilliant and moving anti-slavery tracts ever written.”

There’s also the issue of maintaining the artistic integrity of one of the greatest American literary masterpieces ever written. Twain himself once said that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.” Those who would alter his work, even if just a few words of it, are not only setting a dangerous precedent in regard to artistic censorship, they are also doing a great disservice to artistic integrity.

The man behind the new, sanitized versions of Twain’s classics is Alan Gribben, a 69-year-old English professor at Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama. “I want to provide an option for teachers and other people not comfortable with 219 instances of that word,” he explained, saying that during public readings of Huckleberry Finn audiences responded better to the word ‘slave’ than to the more offensive original language. It’s not the first time such censored versions of the books have been published; each time they were, sales were flat.

Moral Low Ground deplores this PC-powered alteration of such an American masterpiece. It is the job of teachers to place the language of the novel in the context of the racially charged times in which it was written. The language itself is clearly not meant to support racist beliefs but to refute them, and anyone who thinks otherwise obviously hasn’t picked up The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a very long time. Here’s some advice for those misguided folks, straight from the inimitable pen of Mark Twain’s himself: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

 

 

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