Good Question: Is It OK To Edit A Classic?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a book that almost all of us read in school. But more and more public school districts are dropping The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum because of fears over the N-word.

Now, a Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, that elminates the N-word in favor of the word “slave.”

A Washington Post writer compared the move to renaming “War and Peace” to just “Peace” because war is unpleasant.

“This book has been through a lot of editorial changes,” said Mike Reynolds, a literature professor at Hamline University.

“Twain made a number of changes based on editorial concerns about repeating himself and not reaching audiences in the best way,” he said.

As to whether removing the N-word is a good idea, Reynolds was torn.

“Push comes to shove, I’d rather not have any censorship,” said Reynolds.

However, many public schools are not teaching the book, because they don’t want to deal with the controversy over the word.

“I would rather see opportunities for students to be able to engage it, for teachers to be able to teach the book. And if that lets people do that, that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said.

“I think it’s important not to sanitize the history. I think it’s important if you’re going to teach the book, you’re teaching the history — your teaching the concept,” said Enid Logan, a University of Minnesota sociologist who specializes in race in America.

She noted that young people are hearing the N-word all the time in hip-hop music and Hollywood movies.

“Because of the fact they hear the N-word, it’s even more important to leave it in,” she argued.

“So many people are raised with this idea of colorblindness. This idea that the best way to get over racism is not to talk about it and to pretend it doesn’t exist,” she said. Instead, she said confronting the issue is the better way to go.

Sylvia and Ken Gilbert worked to get Huck Finn off the required list at St. Louis Park High School in 2003. They were successful at getting students the choice to not read the book, according to Sylvia Gilbert.

“It’s not that you want to erase the history,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “But high school teachers that teach that class are not prepared. They look at one angle of what the book represents.”

Gilbert said that teachers are unprepared to navigate complex issues of race, and the word makes African-American students feel uncomfortable.

Of course, just because one publisher is putting out a version with the word “slave,” educators will still be able to select a version with the N-word in it.

“We’ll vote with our pocketbooks,” said Reynolds.

“I think the reason of taking it out makes it remote, abstract, distant,” said Logan. Which is both she and Reynolds said, they’d prefer to see the original, historical terminology in the book.

“It’s in there 219 times. Clearly it’s part of vernacular, setting the context of the era,” said Logan. Unlike a film, for young people, a novel can be “their only portal of access into that historical context.”

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Jean

    No, it’s not ever OK to edit a classic.

    • SUE


  • LaVonne Boettcher

    Editing is just another way to say they are censoring what you or i or anyone else can read! whether it is politically correct today or not, this book was written in time when such stuff was the norm. so i say hands off!! or tell me what you are going to edit next!!!

  • R III

    This is far worse then when Steven Speelturd edited the guns into walky-talkies in the new release of ET. They are destroying the historical nature and true words of the book. I would expect this in China but not here.

  • pat

    Liberal Elites run everything, this is wrong on so many levels. There are many things I would like to see edited, particularily when my faith has been attacked by some “artist” and their vulger displays. Someone let me know how I can get things edited, it didn’t take much effort for this guy.

  • NO,NO


  • Mark

    It is important to leave books as written by the author, especially ones with such historical significance. There is a reason that we need to avoid using the N-word, and it isn’t because rappers use it, they are taking back the term and empowering themselves with it (that doesn’t mean it is alright for us white folk to say it). It is because it was part and parcel of a culture which enslaved an entire people based on color and treated them as beasts of burden. We need to see and be reminded that culture existed and that it’s consequences have echoed into the future. Slave is still a weighted term, but the N-word demonstrates slavery was not simply a prison class of people, but a people treated as non-human. We should not shy away from confronting the horrors humans have inflicted upon each other simply to make the conversation easier. If schools are not prepared to teach complicated issues, one wonders what the point of their existence is. Real education is not just spelling and arithmetic, computers can do that for us, it is critical thinking.

  • K.

    Wasn’t our country founded on the principles of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press”? Censorship is what the Nazis did in WWII and it’s what happens in socialist/communist nations. Do we really want to go there?

  • Carolina

    Not OK-definitely. Shall we just ignore history and modify the way things were, or acknowledge it and learn from it? Duh-the choice is simple.

  • Greg Laden

    The Washington Post reporter is wrong. “War,” the thing, is unpleasant, but the word is not. “N….” is a slap in the face to anyone who hears it no matter what the intended meaning.

    My natural inclination as a scholar and anthropologist is to leave original texts along, but I fully support this new version and I’ll let my kids schools know that this is what I would prefer they adopt for use in their literature classes.

  • Dave

    Liberals and their thought and speech police. You can’t even bring yourself to use THE word in your story. The N word. The F word. When people read this you think the real word doesn’t appear in their minds? Pretty soon the L word will be banned. The only words OK are those that disparage the things or people that liberals want disparaged.

  • mark from

    WCCO is censoring right now, yesterday there was about 20 comments what happened WCCO? Where they not politically correct? Where they offensive to you? Dave Moore is turning over in his grave.

  • kristie60

    Really people, can’t we keep the politics out of this! Blaming this on the Liberal Elite is so laughable! That’s like saying Religious Conservative Republicans have never wanted to ban books from libraries, or censor textbooks in the schools! The truth of this subject is how you feel about changing an historical classic novel. Regardless of what political party you follow or what religion you follow, most would all agree, Huckleberry Finn, should not be edited, it needs to stay how it was written; an historical classic!

  • cwitt

    Huckleberry Finn should not be changed. It is classic literature – whats next? To Kill a Mockingbird?! Uncle Tom’s Cabin? They are works of fiction written in a different historical era. As someone already mentioned, we don’t censor historybooks, why should we sensor historical fiction?

    I am and always have been a voracious reader. I once got in trouble in school for reading Catcher in the Rye which was on my school’s list of banned material but was on my parent’s bookshelf at home. The librarian called my parents – I was mortified. My parents told her to shove it and that they were perfectly capable of judging if the material their child is reading is appropriate for them. Bravo parents!

  • Talmer

    Huck Finn and the N-word:

    So, last night I received 10 texts after the post about HUCK FINN being PC-fied. I was done with this story, I had moved on. When our local news came on at 10pm, I was interested in seeing how they would cover the story. Keep in mind last night it was everywhere and on everything. When I was driving home it was on NPR, but I am done with this story, I took a stand or at least said where I stand.

    I don’t usually watch this particular channel but, my cousin was texting me to turn to channel 4 news. In the newscast they have a section called “Good Question?” And you know what the question was, “should a new version of Huck Finn be edited? Or something to that effect. So, as I am watching the story they interviewed 5 or 6 people, one was white and the others were all black. Now, the when the media wants to get around being or appearing racist they get a lot of African-Americans to basically say the same thing that any white person would say but, by having a African-American say it’s some how less offensive. So, I now know what direction the story is headed based of the comments made by the six people being interviewed. There was this hallmark moment early on in this piece when they had two young African-American gentlemen outside a corner store, dressed in their full winter grab, looking seriously urban. So, the reported ask them what they think and then… wait… the male said “I use the word.” All of them almost in unison saying “Leave it alone,” “it’s fine,” then a clip of Anderson Copper, from CNN, saying that changing the book to be more sensitive would be like changing the the title of the book “War and Peace” to just “Peace.” For real?

    I remember this book in elementary school and nobody pulled it off the shelves then; So, I have to say that I was quite surprised to hear that many schools across the country did not allow the book in their schools. With that being said, this edited version of the book is intended for elementary and middle school students, this is the core audience. A edited version allows teachers to bring the book into the classroom and expose this literary classic to them, an opportunity they have not had in a long time. The original version is not being pulled off the shelves and hidden away. The new normal is that we are more PC and that is because we are now a more diverse society. We censor and edit content all the time and content is being edited for us, whether you know it or not. I am editing myself right now!

    At the end of that story, they cut to the reporter and the news anchors all agreeing that this new change was silly and smiling. I am now in-sensed. First of all they are all white, so what the hell do they know about being called a “nigger?” They may have used the word but, they have never been called one. I could not help but think about my Elementary and Middle school years and being called a “nigger” everyday of the week from the grades 4 till 9th grade. Sometimes I even forgot my own name because I knew they don’t SEE me as a person, just this word. Kids can be cruel, especially in High school. As an adult we instinctively protect kids from many things until they the maturity to handle it. However, this is a call that each parent must make at home, but while this book is on our school shelves we need to protect those kids who cannot protect them themselves. It’s as if everyone forgot about all the news stories a couple months ago about all these kids being bullied in school and kids killing themselves because they did feel like they fit in or were not welcome in their schools. Words have power, even the wrong words.

  • Steve

    Maybe they should take the N-word out of rap music !!!

    • Gary

      I agree Steve as a white person I am very offended by the N-word in rap music

    • mark from

      Well said Steve, but we can’t because that would offend people

  • Greg Leary

    ‘what people need to realize is that Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemmons) was in no way a racist. Huckaberry Finn pokes fun at the narrow minds of people who condone racism, and slavery. Wake up people!!!!!!

  • Edgar

    Huck Finn could not be published because Jim was portraed as a thinking human, not chattle.

    Now, he is getting banned again because he is not PC.

    “If you can change history, you can control the presant” AH?

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