Huck Finn Stripped of “N” Word

People are buzzing about Huck Finn and it’s all about what is being changed in the new version of Mark Twain’s literary classic – two words.

One is the “n” word, which appears more than 200 times, according to several news reports. It will be replaced with the word “slave.”

The other word to be cut is a derogatory word for Native Americans.

On Monday, Publisher’s Weekly reported that NewSouth's new edition of by one of Hartford’s most famous writers, will be stripped of words that have been deemed offensive.

Some call is politically correct. Others say this is censorship.

"In a bold move compassionately advocated by Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben and embraced by NewSouth, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn also replaces two hurtful epithets that appear hundreds of times in the texts with less offensive words, this intended to counter the “preemptive censorship” that Dr. Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists nationwide," NewSouth says in a press statement.

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," Twain scholar Alan Gribben told Publisher’s Weekly. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

The Mark Twain House and Museum works with teachers on how to teach the book, and while they feel the book should be taught as Mark Twain intended it, an altered version of the story can be a useful tool when used in the right circumstances, in the appropriate context at the right age level, museum officials said.

It’s all based on the maturity of the student.

Giving a student who cannot understand the context the unabridged text is not appropriate, Craig Hotchkiss, education program manager for the Mark Twain House and Museum said. The time to read the original version is when the student can understand it in context of history.

“There are strategies for teaching this book, unabridged,” Hotchkiss said. “It is probably best taught in an American studies approach to history and literature.”

Since the story has received national attention, there are several claims of censorship and political correctness.

Even Perez Hilton is weighing in, saying “This will certainly stir up some controversy.”

 “I think that things ought to be handled in a pedagogical responsible way. There is a difference between an honors literature class in high school and a fifth grade class taking a look at Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn as a book off American nostalgia,” Hotchkiss said.“The purpose of literature is to get under your skin. To provoke and that’s what Mark Twain does. It’s isn’t a feel-good book. It’s a dark book but it’s worth reading because it’s timeless. It touches on very core American themes.”

Based on the unscientific medium of Twitter, reaction is mixed, and hashtags have popped up, including #RewritingTwain.

Angieanything tweets: “Huck Finn should be left as it is. We don’t need it to reflect the 21st century. It wasn’t written for the 21st century.

While @NickKristof tweets: “If censoring Huck Finn will help get a great book back on h.s. reading lists, isn’t that worth it?

The change comes after Alabama chose the book for it’s “Big Read” in 2009 and several teachers said that the language was not acceptable in today’s classrooms.

The fact that there would be backlash is apparently no surprise to Gribben.

"I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified," he told PW. "Already, one professor told me that he is very disappointed that I was involved in this." 

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