DeBlog: Is It Right To Take ‘N’ Word Out Of Huck Finn?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV 

A new edition of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is about to hit the market, without the “n” word.

According to the story on our website, the “n” word appears in Huck Finn 219 times.

Alan Gribben, the scholar releasing the new version told Publishers Weekly, “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,” he said.

There’s no question that the repeated appearance of the “n” word draws attention in today’s classrooms. A parent asked St. Louis Park schools to remove Huck Finn from the required reading list but was denied.

Still, Gribben’s idea to replace the word with “slave” is to keep the literary discussion of the book alive, by removing the distraction of the “n” word.

So what do you think? Is it OK to mess with a classic piece of literature? Is this political correctness gone too far? Share your thoughts in the comments and watch Good Question at 10!

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Pat

    It is ridiculous, but as you can see by this article, “the n word”. If it is so offensive what about the “f” word, let’s take that out too. If a certain part of our culture can use the word freely, it just can’t be that bad. This is a piece of literature from the times, and incidentally not all people refered to as “n’s” were slaves.

  • Gary Allen Vollink

    If translated to another language, or updated for modern language does any great story really lose it’s meaning? In some odd cases, yes – usually due to bad translation. In others, no. I don’t think it matters as much as many people think it does. After-all, I don’t know anybody who reads the Bible in original Greek and Hebrew.

    • Chris

      Isn’t translation different than changing words that are in the same language? I’t’s not always where it starts with censorship, it’s where it leads too.

    • Jason DeRusha

      interesting comment, Gary… I was thinking about the number of books that have been translated too. That’ll be part of our story.

      • Terry Middlekauff

        I believe it’s more than messing with a classic piece of literature. The real problem is with “messing with history.” It has been said that those who ignore history tend to repeat it.

    • Bryan

      Plenty of people read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. Especially those in Israel and Greece. You point is weak. This is not translation, this is censorship. Changing words in a work creates a new work, it is not a translation of it.

      • Gary Allen Vollink

        Censorship would suggest that this work being available is going to guarantee that the original will no longer be available. I have not heard anybody specify that.

        I am suggesting that the connotation and actual impact of the word is very different than it was when written. Partly because of it’s hip-hop popularization. In that way, it is a modernization.

        I respectfully agree to disagree with your points on this.

      • Bryan

        Censorship defined: “Censorship is suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.”

        Sound familiar?

        This has nothing to do with Cyprus Hill, Snoop Dogg, or any other use of the word. This is a work of art, being changed to suit the purpose of a small group of people who are offended by it.

      • Gary Allen Vollink

        Wow, you can use a dictionary…impressive.

  • Bridget Cusick

    We can’t rewrite history, no matter how unfortunate that history is. The use of “the N word” in the text should create a teachable moment (or 219 of them). (The new edition also removes “injun” — which should create another set of teachable moments.) This move does nothing to help us build a less bigoted or better-educated future.

  • Fletcher

    I’m a college student who didn’t enjoy literature class at all, but Twain did not use the term to denigrate. He gives an accurate picture of what life was like along the Mississippi River during that time. That’s how it should be taught–it’s part of the learning (and how it was wrong). I can understand removing it for a young child’s reading. But it’d be nice if parents had this much outrage about rappers that many children listen to who use the term.

  • Paul

    By all means, rewrite the book and then rewrite the Constitution and the Bible and the Koran and the Bill of Rights and then lets have some book burning. We have to be political correct. In the 21 century we can’t offend anyone. Lets all become robots.

  • Bridget

    You replace the word with “slave” but it doesn’t carry the same kind of weight and isn’t as accurate to the times. It ISN’T “a matter of how you express that in the 21st century,” it’s a matter of how it was expressed in the 1880’s. Heaven forbid this literary discussion also turn into an historical discussion or a conversation on the evolution of our language. This is a really weak excuse to gloss over slavery.

  • Bryan

    This is a violation of a work of art. Would we allow the Mona Lisa to have a new facial expression put on her face? Do we allow someone to paint horns on God on the Sistine Chapel?

    The changing of words in a work of art is censorship. It does not add to the discussion, it takes away from it. Even if changing this word to another word allows more students to read it, they are no longer reading Twain, they are reading Gribben.

    Twain exercised his first amendment right to criticize a practice that was common in his time. A violation of his right to write what he wanted is still a violation, even if he has long since passed.

    Anyone involved with this rewrite, anyone who purchases a copy, and most importantly, any teacher who agrees to teach using this version should be ashamed of themselves. As a matter of fact, maybe they should all move to Iran. They love censorship there.

    • Gary Allen Vollink

      The re-write is being done by a scholar, not being commissioned by a school district somewhere, though, I’m sure it’ll be marketed that way, I don’t see that as an issue here. More-over, nobody is suggesting that the original version won’t be available anymore (that would be horrifying, and I’d agree with your bashing of this). However, it’s one alternate version being made available to those who WANT an alternate version.

      • Bryan

        Cool. So we’ll take the Mona Lisa, change her face, and then teach that as the truth. I understand that schools are not behind this, but they will be the target audience. It does not matter if the original version is available. The point is that an alternative version is not necessary, and not acceptable.

  • Bridget

    Right, brain-fart: I meant 1840’s.

  • Victim Du Jour

    Cypress Hill makes the “n-word” sound cool in the song “insane in the brain”

    If rap artists use the word freely, why is it such a big deal if it’s in an old book?

    Our education system is not being paid to be an enclave for political police.

  • Lee

    I agree Bryan, and we can’t change history and we certainly SHOULD NOT change art. That’s how it was and it’s a part of who we are as a country today, if we change it how will kids 4 or 5 generations from now learn anything about history or art or even religion?

  • lib

    Lee, if you rewrite history the coming generations will only know what the authors of the rewrite want them to know. There is a reason the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not taught in public school. Shool text books have been being re-written with a certain slant for many years with great success, why not re-write great works of literature?

  • Dave

    This is “Political Correctness” run amok… will we eventually be required to cover-up great works or art to please the few? We are slowly losing Christmas and Easter as Christian Religious Holidays at the same time we are promoting Ramadan and Kwanzaa. Several years ago our church choir was given new “gender neutral” lyrics for traditional Christmas songs, many in the choir refused to alter the authors original lyrics. Sorry, but the mamby-pamby pendulum has swung way too far to the left and needs to return to the right, let sanity and common sense prevail.

    • Bridget Cusick

      “will we eventually be required to cover-up great works or art to please the few?”

      Actually that’s already been done. John Ashcroft did it at the DOJ in 2002.

      • Dave

        Don’t blame John Ashcroft

        Hix said the Justice Department bought the drapes to avoid having to rent them every time the agency had a formal event. The drapes cost about $2,000 to rent.

        He also said Ashcroft was not involved in the decision.

        “The attorney general was not even aware of the situation,” he said. “Obviously, he has more important things to do.”

  • Jeff Boone

    When other people do horrible things to us we build memorials. When we do horrible things to other people we edit it out of our literature.

  • Jeremy

    The greatest crime of political correctness is that it destroys open discussion in favor of ignorant silence. In an effort not to offend we stop talking. Lack of dialogue does not increase acceptance, in fact it has the opposite effect. I’m sure the conversation a teacher will have to have about the N word will be uncomfortable, but its better than pretending that era in history never happened.

    I am a published poet who has also written several plays that have been performed on stage. As an artist I abhor censorship in any form. While copyright law may allow for this to be done it certainly violates every the ethics of copyright law. When a school or company purchases a play to be performed they purchase the right to perform that play as written. They cannot change a line because they don’t like it. If someone has issues with a scene or the language they probably shouldn’t do the play. There are movies, TV shows, and songs that offend me all the time, but I will stand up for their right to produce their art. I will however, choose not to support what they do financially. That is how a free society works.

    It may only seem like 1 word, and its a word I hate, but where does it stop? Maybe we should take the Song of Solomon out of the Bible. Maybe delete some of the “naughtier” parts of the The Canterbury Tales. How about that sex scene in Romeo & Juliet or the one in Much Ado about Nothing? Why not paint over the nudes? Maybe Art Museums should repaint old paintings to make them more multicultural. How about a black Mona Lisa or a Hispanic Andy Warhol so that it will make people feel better? An artist should never have there work altered for any reason, least of all because it offends modern sensibilities.

    It may only be one word, but that word is a part of our history. And its not a history we should deny or pretend didn’t exist. Mark Twain gives the modern reader a chance to peer directly into that world and talk about it and learn from it.

  • lib

    Well said Jeremy.

  • tdk

    Go buy copies of the original now, they will be worth a mint to some idiot book collectors in 30 years.

  • Victim Du Jour

    Hollywood certainly uses the N-word in their scripts to make White people look bad and feel guilty.

    Last night I watched a Navy Diver movie called “Men of Honor”, and it seemed almost like the movie producers were trying too hard to depict white people as racist.

    Re-writing history sounds 1984ish to me.

  • Beth

    Ridiculous! What ever happened to learning from literature? Seems like censorship to me.

  • gtV

    Political correctness has reared its ugly Hydra heads again. I have read many of Mark Twain’s works several times; Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn among them. If ever the spectre of Big Brother and 1984 “bookspeak” revisionist techniques, I might say this is a prime Orwellian example.

    How are going to understand our past and learn from it if we sanitize literature, arts, etcetera with a form of PC censorship? What’s next the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran being PC’d and rewritten? Is this what America stands for?

  • Against censorship

    I have always been against censorship and this is not different. It was written that way and should stay that way. If people don’t have a stiff enough backbone in the 21st century, then don’t read the damn book or listen to the music, or watch the movie. I mean, would they take out cracker, whitey, or honkey? I would guess not.

  • S. Earl Jarosh

    This is down right silly!! History is history and those who rewrite or deny history are doomed to repeat it. Why did Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain write these kind of stories? A little study of the man would show him as a progressive of his time. This was the reality of the time and shows us how dark the spirit of man can be and was. What makes this a good use for historical discussion is that it is an entertaining read with historical content at a time when reading has become far less important in the lives of our young people. The way people spoke, conversed, wrote, and thought at the time is completely foreign to our current generations and to removed this critical part of the text completely loses the context of the time.

  • Salli Trandem

    I think it’s ridiculous. How are we suppose to teach our children about why the word is bad if it’s removed from a period piece of literature? You can’t change history through revision.

  • Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huck Finn’s now politically correct! | Us Girls..Our Views

    […] Okay all. I know we normally don’t post on Friday’s but since this is such big news, I wanted to see if anyone wanted to talk about it. I got this from here. […]

  • Marv Koski

    I’m curious. Are they going to reissue Dick Gregory’s autobiography since the “n” word was essentially the title of the book?

  • Cache

    ‘n’ word, ‘f’ word, ‘b’ word…Total nonsense..Censorship is never right…it never stops as some other fool will be offended by another word. Words are free speech tools to convey meanings to speech. If you are offended don’t listen or don’t read it. You have NO RIGHT to NOT be offended! …Grow up children

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