January 2nd, 2011 / 5:30 pm
Behind the Scenes

“N word” removed from Huck Finn

A new edition of Huckleberry Finn will be released next month from NewSouth where all 219 instances of Twain’s use of the word “nigger” have been removed. “We recognized that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind,” says the publisher, “but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there—all of them, in fact—that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.” Ugh. Really? Is this the beginning of a national clean-me-so-we-feel-better literature trend?

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  1. Ken Baumann

      The ability to recognize context continues to disappear.

  2. marshall

      russell simmons

  3. Felipe

      We’re having the same issue in Brazil. Monteiro Lobato’s books contain racist insults, even in the ones written for children. Lobato is “one of Brazil’s most influential writers, mostly for his children’s books set in the fictional Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”, which are used in school by children between the ages of 8-10.

  4. Roxane

      I really… think that it’s short sighted to chalk this up to “clean me so we feel better.” I love Huck Finn and strongly, strongly disagree with the decision to remove the “n word.” That is bordering on sacrilegious, to me, to change a work of literature. That said, the n word makes me hugely uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable when I see it in Twain, Hannah, Marten, rap lyrics, jokes, wherever. I wish people wouldn’t feel so comfortable using it, repeating it, and then dismissing that usage as acceptable or transgressive. It is not acceptable to me. It is not a word that can be “reclaimed” by anyone, of any race. I am, however, just one person, and my opinion on this matter is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly irrelevant.

      I have no problem with art that makes me uncomfortable. Some of the greatest art and literature is hugely uncomfortable and boundary pushing but when it comes to the n word, it’s not just about discomfort. It’s about a very complex, very damaging cultural history. Just because Twain used the N word because that was acceptable at the time, doesn’t mean it was, really, acceptable at the time. I wasn’t alive then but I’m pretty sure black people weren’t thrilled with the usage and it’s not somehow better just because one of the greatest writers ever used it casually. There’s never going to be a consensus on this issue and we cannot nor should not try to cleanse history or the language that reflects that history. At the same time, it’s unfair to dismiss what NewSouth is doing with this new edition as mere political correction and cultural coddling. Doing that is no better than the censorship taking place with this new edition.

  5. Anonymous

      What are they doing if not “political correction and cultural codding”?

  6. Court

      Hasn’t this happened before, a few times?

      Take some cold comfort in the fact that no teacher who selects this edition is going to teach much about Huck Finn anyway.

  7. jhon Baker

      yeah, fuck that – Too frustrated to say more on that at the moment.

  8. Roxane

      I didn’t say that wasn’t what they were doing. I am saying that this revision (with which I strongly disagree) is more complex than just political correction.

  9. Anonymous

      “At the same time, it’s unfair to dismiss what NewSouth is doing with this new edition as mere political correction and cultural coddling.”

      So, they’re doing something else? Instead? Too?

  10. Roxane

      I think they are doing something else too, like, in a misguided way, trying to undo wrongs that cannot be undone. I think they are acknowledging an awareness that despite the greatness of the book, it is still troubling for some people. They’re going about it all wrong but I don’t dismiss what they’re doing out of hand.

  11. Anonymous

      And that’s not “political correction and cultural coddling”?

  12. Blake Butler

      why is it so wrong to be uncomfortable?

  13. Court

      Roxane, there’s no doubt the issue is complex, but in my view this house does a disservice to students who may not have a chance to learn for themselves firsthand about that complexity. That and the pandering to incompetent teachers who would select such an edition in the first place – possibly to avoid having to have that very discussion? – bother me.

  14. alan

      Mark Twain does not use that word in “Huckleberry Finn.” Huckleberry Finn does. The novel depicts a racist society from the perspective of someone who is part of that society. That does not make it a racist novel and in fact it is quite movingly anti-racist. At the same time, I do think it’s a crime to teach it in high schools. The emendation by NewSouth (a very telling name) is no solution and only serves to whitewash historical reality.

      I would defend the use of the slur in question in the context of a fictional voice or direct citation or for special rhetorical effect (Muhammed Ali: “No Vietcong ever called me….”). Any other use is either an ugly provocation that should be treated as such, or, in the case of its use by black people in this society, a conflicted accommodation to the prevailing attitudes and practices they’re faced with every day.

  15. Nick Mamatas

      Are the 219 missing words to be sold separately?

  16. jhon Baker

      It’s a white wash of history. Every black person I have ever known was not only not offended by it but defended it by simply stating a variation of – “that’s the way people talked then, it would be more ignorant to ignore the truth of that.”

  17. Tummler

      I think that everyone’s wishy-washy-ness about this issue proves that it is really not all that big of a deal anyway. Then again, it also proves that this is very much a big deal.

  18. Ashley Ford

      My fear is that the removal of the word will lead to the removal of uncomfortable discussion about the text. Even now, I believe the biggest deterrent to racism will be making the uncomfortable less so. Not by ridding ourselves of reminders of the past (and current) racial disparities in our country, but by making race something less taboo to talk about.

      My high school was 93% black and the college I attend is 83% white. College is where I learned that the majority of my white peers were raised to think that noticing, mentioning, and talking about race was in poor taste and could get you labeled racist. I could be wrong, but I think this actually kept them from reaching out to students in the racial minority for fear of saying the wrong thing and being called the R-word. Some even get defensive when people of color talk about race because they think of it as inappropriate conversation.

      I don’t pretend to have all (or any of) the answers about how to “fix” racism in this country, but I think we start by teaching students to accept/tolerate/celebrate the differences in others and not to ignore them. Yes, some people are teaching their children not to use the n-word and letting them know why it’s offensive. Others are teaching their children not to say it in front of other people.

      I hope the removal of this word from the text is not an attempt to ignore the past. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think that was exactly what’s happening. I’m not sure how integral the word is to the conversation, but the conversation is necessary.

  19. Marc

      To simply call the character “Jim,” and not “Miss Watson’s nigger, Jim” renders the context moot, turning a serious book into an adventure story.

      The publisher’s effort reminds me about the private company that wanted to “sanitize” movies by removing all foul language, excessive sex and violence and racism from films, then repackage them and sell the movies in their original packaging.

      The best stories are about horrible shit which cannot be solved and makes every one uncomfortable. This is the greatest power of literature.

  20. Ashley Ford

      This reminds me of a classmate/friend who told me that her parents had a special tape of “The Little Mermaid” where Ariel never sells her soul to Ursula.

      That’s some bullshit.

  21. alan

      Well, again, context. The abstraction “making someone uncomfortable” covers a lot of instances. Some of them are cool and enlightening, some are abuse.

  22. Tummler

      The N-word should be removed from the poetry of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. The syllabus for one of my upcoming classes includes Robert H. deCoy’s “The Bible.”

  23. Tummler

      The N-word should be removed from the poetry of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. The syllabus for one of my upcoming classes includes Robert H. deCoy’s “The Bible.”

  24. Nick Mamatas

      I can’t help but notice that the scholar’s motivation for assisting in removing the word is that it upset his daughter…who had a black friend (and presumably is not black herself), and the “general reader” of Alabama who attended his talks on Tom Swayer.

      So is the word finally being removed because it upsets…white southerners? That’s a laugh.

  25. reynard

      as a german i feel that it is okay for me to use the word ‘nazi’ in the context of speaking with another german about how the holocaust didn’t happen, but to be honest i would rather see it removed from the work of william h. gass

  26. Dawn.

      Good point, Ashley. I do believe the removal of the n-word from the test is an attempt to white-wash the past, to avoid confronting the real uncomfortable discussions a book like Huck Finn instigates. I think it’s a huge disservice to literature in particular and our culture in general. Most of our greatest literature is uncomfortable and/or confrontational, as it should be.

  27. Hank

      “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

  28. Roxane

      I think discomfort can be a great thing but discomfort and pain are not synonymous. Most people do not enjoy pain. Again, I absolutely object to what this publisher is doing. I guess I am just saying I understand the inclination.

  29. John Minichillo

      I’m sure this is motivated by money, being able to sell these books to school kids, who are probably the largest audience.

      I’ve taught all grades in the South and Southern Lit can create tension in the classroom. The grades where this book is taught – the kids are immature, and often there’s racial division in the schools, there are fights. A learning experience can turn into something altogether different. Some of these schools teach creationism for Pete’s sake.

      I’ve also been at universities where teachers were fired for using the N-word in the classroom, even in the context of the material.

      The Disney-produced Piano Lesson is a pretty good version – but it’s sanitized. Gets a larger audience, though the effect of the language is diminished.

      When reading aloud in class you can ask students to edit, but many won’t. And there’s political-correctness backlash. And I’m also hyper-aware of the Louis CK riff on the n-word, so I feel kind of like a fraud taking that approach. But there’s too much room for misunderstanding and Louis CK doesn’t have to answer to anyone.

  30. Roxane

      Good points.

  31. Roxane

      I too hope that this would not be an attempt to ignore or forget the past. I think there is a lot to discuss where history and literature are concerned.

  32. Vladmir

      any messing around with the original text is an act of cowardice. the word “nigger” is used and is within historical context. this is ridiculous. kids who read this new version are being deprived of rich American cultural heritage.

      everyone wants to tip-toe around these issues. what’s worse? that children do not know the country they were born in or that children just feel good about everything? kids aren’t so stupid. this so called “scholar” is a fucking idiot and if i met him on the street i’d punch him in the asshole. there’s no goddamn question about that.

  33. deadgod

      The article Blake links to says that “Miss Watson’s nigger, Jim” is called “Miss Watson’s slave, Jim” – which would not “render the context moot”, but rather, would foreground one aspect of the “context” (slavery) in a (I, too, think) misguided attempt to soften the blow of another aspect of the “context” (hatred for negritude).

      The attempt seems (to me) to have been to keep the “conversation” unclean – that is, on ‘unclean’, hateful matters – while making it possible for primary and secondary school-kids (and teachers) to talk about the book, the institution, and even the word “nigger”, without the constant disruption that that ugly word might provoke.

      Whitewashing the text is bullshit, but, as (I think) Roxane is saying, the scholar’s attempt at editing the book into, what, polite shape – so as to talk about conditions that make civility barely, if at all, possible – is, at least, a Nice Try.

  34. deadgod

      The article Blake links to says that “Miss Watson’s nigger, Jim” is called “Miss Watson’s slave, Jim” – which would not “render the context moot”, but rather, would foreground one aspect of the “context” (slavery) in a (I, too, think) misguided attempt to soften the blow of another aspect of the “context” (hatred for negritude).

      The attempt seems (to me) to have been to keep the “conversation” unclean – that is, on ‘unclean’, hateful matters – while making it possible for primary and secondary school-kids (and teachers) to talk about the book, the institution, and even the word “nigger”, without the constant disruption that that ugly word might provoke.

      Whitewashing the text is bullshit, but, as (I think) Roxane is saying, the scholar’s attempt at editing the book into, what, polite shape – so as to talk about conditions that make civility barely, if at all, possible – is, at least, a Nice Try.

  35. Kyle

      I’m assuming Huck Finn will be taught as something other than a piece from the realism movement having had the word removed. It’s a shame that a desire for cultural verisimilitude on the behalf of an author seeking to capture an accurate representation of diction of the time would be nullified to make a transcendent text more readily accepted.

  36. Surrendertostrangeness

      ha louis ck is funny

      i don’t like you john minichillo

  37. letters journal

      What’s the difference between this and remixing a song or something. Censorship is a creative act that is ultimately no different than the original act, just like editing. Adding and removing words. Changing words. Who cares about the will of the original creator (wasn’t the cult of individual creativity done away with a while ago?). Is the result good?

      What’s the difference between this and Jonathan Safran Foer’s new cut-up book thing? Didn’t he do the “sacrilegious” act of changing a work of literature?

      Or is changing a work of literature only okay if it’s done in the context of ‘experimentalism’ or whatever?

      Censorship is government sponsored Oulipo.

  38. Marc

      DG: The context of American slavery as an institution is so closely tied to racially dehumanizing language that removing the word “nigger” and replacing it with “slave” renders race a non-issue in the text. People are still enslaved, for sex, labor, punishment, etc. but their enslavement has to do with sex and or social class and not necessarily their race. And certainly not as a state sponsored institution. When Twain uses “nigger” in Adventures of Huck Finn he’s doing so decades after the end of institutional slavery in the U.S. to show, in part, how the tools of the institution, namely dehumanizing language, were used and continue to be used as weapons of racial superiority.

      So using “slave” instead of “nigger” does, in a very powerful and quite specific manner, destroy the context of the text.

  39. Amber

      If we all hold hands and pretend bad things never happened, we all repeat those same bad things again and again. It’s terribly misguided intentions at work here. The worst of PC-ism.

      What Roxane said earlier sticks out to me: “trying to undo wrongs that cannot be undone.” I think that’s exactly it. And it’s not only misguided, it’s harmful, because in the very act of trying to undo them, we remove the importance of the fact that the wrong occurred and all that we can learn from that, hopefully. People used this word, good people even, and we need to understand why and what that says about us and why that was wrong. Even if it makes us uncomfortable to learn these things.

  40. Sean

      What is it with removing (or adding–see Hemingway) words after an author’s death? I mean we need some crime and punish on that bullshit, some code. This reminds me of the republished DFW speech where they remove his sentence about why suicides shoot for the head. They indict themselves in the removal, and rob the author, who is dead and gone. Of course it changes the fucking speech/book! And the discussion…and. Here’s a man that stressed the difference between lightning and lightning bug and you’re going to change 200 + instances of a word?

      Oh God I can’t wait to read Barry Hannah and August Wilson as this catches on.

  41. Amber

      Dude, seriously? That IS some bullshit. Just give your stupid kids Veggie Tales if that’s how you feel and leave the Disney classics alone.

  42. John Minichillo

      They already did it to The Piano Lesson, film version. He never made another movie after that.

  43. John Minichillo

      Louis CK’s bit is that if someone says the n-word, everybody knows what they are saying and you translate it in your own head, and so it’s like you have just said the word. He calls BS on it.


      It’s true but it also simplifies things doesn’t it? Most of can’t say that word. Or we choose not to, or don’t want to. It’s a good bit, but that’s all it is. There’s not a good solution.

      I like you sTs, though you’ve repeatedly gone out of your way to let me know you don’t like me in blanket nonspecific anonymous statements. I like your anonymity and your cute name. I imagine you as a glittery butterfly with reading glasses and a funny smell, some poor creature who probably doesn’t really like anyone.

      I think if I saw your real mug you’d be easier to dislike. If you said anything that mattered I might dislike the things you say. As is, it’s easy enough for me to imagine fluttering about in some nondistinct city disliking me and going about your ghostly existence. There’s probably a lot of people you’ve never met that you don’t like. Seems like a waste of time and energy, but oh well. Whatever.

  44. John Minichillo

      It’s also recommended in the service of nonsexist and gender-neutral language to edit historical phrases such as “All men are created equal.”

      I think the issue becomes not so much the historical accuracy as not being perceived to perpetuate sexist connotations.

  45. christopher.

      Ashley wins the internet. Seriously great points.

  46. christopher.

      I really hope it’s removed from Friday, Boyz n the Hood, and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, too.

      I’d really love to watch those movies, but it’s really hard with all the flippant racism…

  47. christopher.

      I really hope it’s removed from Friday, Boyz n the Hood, and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, too.

      I’d really love to watch those movies, but it’s really hard with all the flippant racism…

  48. Michael Copperman
  49. Michael Copperman
  50. NewSouth Books

      We appreciate the concerns expressed by Blake and others about the NewSouth edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. As publishers and as readers, we advocate for literacy and against censorship and the banning of books, and this debate encourages us that there are others out there who feel strongly as we do about these issues.

      To simply restate, our experience has been that there are an increasing number of teachers who want to bring these works by Mark Twain into their classrooms, but won’t or are not allowed to because of the controversial language. Our hope is that this new edition returns the books, especially Huckleberry Finn, to those classrooms, so that those teachers might yet be able to teach the books and even have that conversation about the original role of the controversial language in the book if they want, now that they’re able to assign the book when they may not have been able to before.

      Thanks to everyone who’s chimed in about this. We will be releasing more information, including Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben’s introduction to the volume, at the book’s official page: http://www.newsouthbooks.com/twain.

  51. Rash_tezak25

      Okay lets be realistic, how many grade school children are learning the historical context of the word? How many would even know how to be culturally sensitive at that age? Or how many are snickering every time the world is read aloud in the classroom? How many students are we giving a new hateful vocabulary? I say don’t remove the word, add a history lesson with the world, talk about racism, talk about it and deal with it as it applies to the current day and the past. I mean even adults are still using the word in a hateful way, how can you expect better behavior from the children they are raising? Leaving the word in or taking it out is not going to change the fact that we teach racism. We live in a racism society. It is embedded in our culture; and confirmed in handing out books to children that we claim to be literary masterpieces, works of satire, works of humor, that contain racist language. What are we really teaching?

  52. deadgod

      removing the word “nigger” and replacing it with “slave” renders race a non-issue in the text

      Marc, what I’m objecting to is not that ‘Twain used the language of slavery (partly) to expose the dehumanizing instrumentality of that language’ – to me, that’s obvious – though, in a conversation where it was questioned, it would bear repeating and explication.

      What I think you’ve got wrong – and, despite mixed feelings (about unintentionally inviting high-school kids to call each other “nigger” in class), I’m not convinced that the bowdlerization of this new edition will make it more ‘teachable’ – what’s objectionable about your “destroy the context” is its too-simple loading of the whole text onto repetition of the one word.

      Here are four uses of “nigger” in Huck Finn:

      [Jim’s father, complaining about “niggers” in Ohio “vot[ing]“] “Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio–mulatter, most as white as a white man.

      [Huck and Jim fleeing a hideout] When we were ready to shove off we was a quarter of a mile below the island, and it was pretty broad day; so I made Jim lay down in the canoe and cover up with the quilt, because if he set up people could tell he was a nigger a good ways off.

      [Huck explaining to Jim that people talk languages different from English] “S’pose a man was to come to you and say Polly-voo-franzy–what would you think?”
      “I wouldn’ think nuffn; I’d take en bust him over de head–dat is, if he warn’t white. I wouldn’t ‘low no nigger to call me dat.”

      [Huck questioned about the raft (on which Jim is hiding)]”What’s that yonder?”
      “A piece of a raft,” I says.
      “Do you belong on it?”
      “Yes, sir.”
      “Any men on it?”
      “Only one, sir.”
      “Well, there’s five niggers run off to-night up yonder, above the head of the bend. Is your man white or black?”

      The context in these cases is, even if “nigger” is scrubbed, made clear in a very powerful and quite specific manner, eh?

  53. Marc

      The context is in the term itself. “Nigger” is a “term that carries with it all the obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks.”

      The term “slave” simply denotes a person who is the property of another; it does not carry the same weight with it that “nigger” does.

      So, yes, it does ruin the context for me.

  54. deadgod

      Yes, “obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks” is in the word “nigger”.

      But all of that “obloquy and contempt and rejection” is “carrie[d] by” that one word? which word has no other meaning?

      The “context” of Huck Finn rests exclusively and entirely in its use of the word “nigger”? to the extent that changing that one word a couple of hundred times would “destroy the context” and “ruin the context” of the novel for you?

      You wouldn’t feel the cruelty imposed on Jim without the signpost “nigger”?


  55. Ddg


  56. Ddg


  57. Fjhg9


  58. Topher

      I guess you also removed it from this post’s title.

  59. Fjhg9


  60. Fjhg9


  61. Questad

      I think this is a great trend. I’m releasing my own series of scrubbed public domain classics.

      Dickens without scary ghosts and depressing poor people. Dostoevsky without those awful murders. Melville without the awful whale hunting. Steinbeck without Socialism. You’re welcome, Sarah Palin.

      While we’re at it, what about those complex narratives in Faulkner? After all, “difficulty” discourages some teachers from teaching. Why four points of view in “The Sound And The Fury” when one works well for so many other books. He won the Nobel Prize, so we’ll be nice and give him two. But that’s it.

      “As I Lay Dying” is so hard, and dying is such a bummer. Wait til you read my new Simpler Happy Polished version, “As I Lay On The Couch Watching Entourage,” with all sentences over 7 words cut.

      Why not, when the world is already full of editions that “faithfully replicate” the text?

  62. Questad

      I don’t even think this is “mere political correction and cultural coddling.” Do these guys even have that much of an agenda, or is it just opportunism, another way to remix a public domain work that is a perennial seller and make it marketable. There are many publishers with versions of Huck Finn and this company will ride this controversy to the top of the list.

  63. Questad

      It’s undoubtedly true that some teachers shy away from teaching Twain because of the unpleasantness of that word. There are also teachers who shy away from teaching Sinclair and Steinbeck because of their political positions. I’m sure you would agree removing that perspective from those books would make them not worth teaching. “Grapes Of Wrath” would be merely “Wine In A Box” and no loner the work it is.

      By the same standard, say what you can to justify it, but your scrubbed version of Huck Finn, right or wrong, is no longer Huck Finn and therefore not worth teaching.

  64. deadgod

      Sam’s book is a shackle. Charles’s book is a slum, Fyodo’s book is an axe, Herm’s book is a splinter. Steinbeck’s book is a tea bag.

      Sarah’s book is a tube of bull’seye-red lipstick.

      My book is a fish.

      –Bill Pigeon-Cooper

  65. Cssmith2009

      i believe they should leave it….. what are they gonna do next edit the bible.

  66. Dfwdf8


  67. alan

      deadgod, you may want to look up the term “negritude.”

  68. Asdrsa5


  69. Huck Finn to be neutered « Court Merrigan

      […] Some company is going to publish Huck Finn without the word “nigger.” Seriously. This man does not approve. Also, he likes this kittycat. […]

  70. Anonymous


  71. phmadore

      Roxane, the word doesn’t even apply to you being that you are a foreign born, urbane, upper-crust intellectual. Seriously. Get off it.

      Anyway, what Blake fails to mention, and what underlines his generally barely-veiled racism, is the fact that Finn, along with all of Twain’s works, is FUCKING OUT OF COPYRIGHT. This being the case, it doesn’t matter if one or twenty editions change anything in the fucking book. The “work of literature” remains in the Library of Congress unchanged, and will forever be available in its original form, as per fucking copryight law.

      So as any sane person in the debate might note, this is just the work of a white person who doesn’t like black people, this magnifying of the edition’s existence. It’s okay with me if they want to print an edition with one word left out and it’s okay with me if they want to teach that in some schools. Probably those schools will be closer to my homeland than to Blake’s. I’m just saying.

      So chill the fuck out, lady. Christ.

  72. Roxane

      I am not foreign born, etc etc etc. Please get your facts straight before jumping all over my shit as usual.

  73. deadgod

      Always good advice, alan.

      The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls “negritude” the

      self-affirmation of black peoples, or the affirmation of the values of civilization of something defined as “the black world” as an answer to the question “what are we in this white world”

      in this excellent article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/negritude .

      Webster’s New Collegiate calls “negritude” something broader:

      a consciousness and pride in the cultural and physical aspects of the African heritage

      I had assumed that the meaning of “negritude” was no longer exclusively associated with the 20th c. Francophone intellectuals, artists, and politicians (like Cesaire) who called their movement Negritude – that one could use the word to mean ‘black awareness of being black; consciousness of African heritage”. Is that too broad an assumption?

      But you’re right – if this was your point – : “negritude”, even in the more catholic sense, doesn’t mean “Negro-ness”, which was how I’d misused the term.

  74. phmadore

      And when I say doesn’t apply, I don’t mean that a racist wouldn’t call it to you. I simply mean that the history of the word is very far removed from your own history and is much closer to people not foreign born, not urbane, and not upper-crust intellectuals. The word means a lot more to my first-line supervisor, for instance, a working-class black man from South Carolina.

  75. phmadore

      Alright, fine. But the rest of my point remains. Any publisher, including you, could do whatever they wanted to Huck Finn, including modernize it with Finn being a little black boy. Wouldn’t change anything in the annals of history, wouldn’t modify the historical record, etc., and certainly wouldn’t be sacrilegious. And may White Jesus descend and strike us all down if anything in literature ever becomes sacred besides its existence.

  76. David

      What I generally find weird about these free speech and censorship debates over racial issues is that they basically tell black people they should feel bad for wanting a word like “nigger” away from them. I think Roxane’s point is that the word doesn’t just turn off necessarily for a black person (and by turn off, I mean to say, recedes from attention, takes an impersonal place in the knowledge of its context and history) in the same way it likely will for a white person. Making this into an issue of ‘political correctness’ then seems kind of racist in itself because it’s implicitly suggesting black people are too immature to come to terms with the past or, precisely, that immaturity is the only way to appreciate a thing like this, so that black people who didn’t like the idea of it would have the endorsable attitude, and it’s white liberals that are somehow conspiring to keep the past from them – as though, for black people, that past weren’t still alive and well for them today! Like white liberals even could take that awareness away, even if they wanted to. So as I read Roxane, while there will also obviously be hostility amongst African-Americans toward any idea of erasing the racist past by deleting that word, they don’t need anyone to tell them that. And what’s more, they would not be wrong or selling out the race if they felt there was something to be said for a slightly friendlier and less environmentally hostile version of an American classic, a version without ‘nigger’ in it where, say, you can recede into private reading of the book, knowing very well its an emendation of the original but basically not having to affectively confront the degradation materially embedded in the word seeing as you already constantly do that. So I could definitely see why a black person might buy this version of Finn and why it has nothing to do with their critical acumen, or with hygeinic censorship: it’s really about something more private, as Roxane says, about some autonomy from pain, and not about avoiding the detached aesthetic notion of “discomfort”.

      Obviously, this would be a very different debate if we were talking about a work that wasn’t available via any other means. Or if all Southern schools decided to release a redone version of Finn where everyone’s nice to Jim. However, even if it does get put on school curricula by teachers who want to mislead kids, I hardly think the critique of racism in Finn could be suddenly disappeared or, for that matter, the racism itself be made intangible simply by virtue of the removal of the word ‘nigger’. There’s a reason it’s such an American classic. So, as Alan points out, this kind of cleaning up of dirt could certainly fit in to a white washing of reality – the logic of a ‘NewSouth’ is certainly often one where “niggers”, though still treated as such, are proudly held up as being “people” just like you and me. But the idea that the absence of the word doesn’t make the contradictions of racism palpable or the descriptive use of it in Twain’s book clear seems very blind to me and also, in a way, self-servingly “intentionalist”, like how Scalia reads the Constitution: if the word isn’t in it, then the Founders never meant for it be read that way. Keeping in mind that I don’t mean this in isolation from more massive changes – but wouldn’t it be a genuinely better world if “nigger” was as foreign a word to the American vocabulary as, say, kike is to it today? With kike, we recognise it, occasionally maybe we even still hear it, and it’s not like it’s no longer anti-Semitic just because it isn’t bandied about all the time, but it feels at a remove from the fabric of daily life; it feels old, basically, like an outdated coin, a word that isn’t in direct currency, circulating as exchange for all sorts of private purchases, if not public ones, and, for that reason, it also feels more mobilisable in public in a meaningful way, more able to be both shocking when it is used (hence to be used in a way which could be truly and interestingly uncomfortable: there isn’t this whole oversaturation and promulgation of the word that goes along with its adoption as a kind of double for the word ‘comrade’ among African-Americans) as well as more able to be critically understood by the public as the tool of bitter racist hatred that it is (it can’t just be reduced to a glib piece of slang, it remains a slur: see here the special fascination amongst whites with being so close to an African-American that they’re permitted by that friend to call them “my nigger” as though the white person were honorarily black, and thus somehow, interpersonally, everything is made even). In that sense, the fact “nigger” is not antiquated in any way, the fact it’s pretty much still alive and in action, needs to be factored in to why a black person (or, for that matter, a white person sick of the use of the word too) might want to buy this book and why emendations of this kind aren’t just sacrilege and interference necessarily but may well have their place.

  77. Tim Horvath

      Being Oulipean doesn’t just mean shifting shit around.

  78. Tim Horvath

      Being Oulipean doesn’t just mean shifting shit around.

  79. Tim Horvath

      I love how DFW anticipated a lot of his (in particular journal) editors’ objections–he played against the “err on the side of caution” impulse he knew some of his words would bump up against and wrote in that he figured they’d probably get written out of the published text. It’s humorous and it almost dares them to leave it in.

  80. Tim Horvath

      Actually seems like one cool lesson on the book could be to put a few pages of both editions side-by-side and grapple with what the differences are–what is gained, what is lost. Would probably make for a lively discussion. They definitely don’t seem the same to me, with much more lost than gained, particularly because so much of the book is its sound, and the sting of slang is altogether different from the more denotative alternatives. It’s not just that every word has context, it’s that slang itself generates context, becomes context–part of why it catches on, jumps from ear to ear to mouth, gets replicated and reappropriated, like a bullet that does consonantal damage.

      Ishmael Reed, writing in the light of this, makes some worthwhile points about the portrayal of Jim in the book more generally: should-mark-twain-be-allowed-to-use-the-n-word.

  81. Michael Copperman

      Agreed. Omitting a word does not alter the history or change attitudes, but if we can’t discuss why the word is loaded and why it can cause such discomfort– for whites, for blacks in a mostly white classroom, for, evidently, the folks at NewSouth– then a part of that book, its value, and in general, the ugliness of the pre-Civil War South is being ignored. I think it’s possible that the publishers motives are ‘good’, and that at the same time, what they’re doing is misguided.

  82. deadgod

      Those who wish to ban the use of ethnic slurs in American literature

      those who are crusading against the author [Twain]

      a critic has taken to tampering with Twain’s great work

      Tim, from what I can tell, the perfesser/editor and the press aren’t attempting or advocating – even remotely – the removal of “nigger” from all copies of the book; they’re just making a option available.

      What pressures would lead to a teacher or school district choosing this bowdlerization?

      They might be addressing: en masse phone calls to the Board; picketing and leaflets; tv coverage of ‘prove-you’re-not’ “racist” teachers; letters and calls to teachers’ homes; and so on – no joke for someone already underpaid and overworked teaching/raising teenagers 25-at-a-time. These crazy media-assault tactics – mounted in the unanswerably explosive terms employed by, say, Ishmael Reed – have been marshaled against schools/faculty often enough in the recent past to make self-defensive pre-emption both reasonable and responsible.

      Agreed: the scrubbed Huck Finn will be not only dishonestly not-even-Twain, but also pretentiously ineffective at, what, combating racism.

      But can you not see how somebody backed into a dilemma of either ‘Huck without “nigger”‘ or ‘poorly informed, irrational hysteria about just the word “nigger”‘ might say, ‘Okay, keep the book without the word in class, and let teachers teach both the book and its bowdlerization.’?

  83. jackie wang

      what the hell is wrong with you? who the hell are you to assume people’s histories?

  84. Guestagain

      should-mark-twain-be-allowed-to-use-the n-word? Read this over enough times to appreciate the deep arrogance of it, until it sinks in, that some 21st century lit geeks and alleged educators will now speculate on what mark twain is “allowed” to do. mark twain will be here three hundred years from now, none of you will, just read your work. Where is the estate on this? Instead of hardening minds to history, colloquialism, americana, and slavery as a worldwide economic phenomena of agrarian pre-industrialized societies, and more generally that making differences is just how cognitive thinking works, we create a grievance based faux (safe) rebellion of sensitivity from a (safe) contemporary perspective, never mind what things were and why, but what they should have been based on what we know now and are privileged due to progress to believe. This is censorship by definition and only one half inch from just burning the book. They should have the equivalent of military court in the academic community where you can be stripped of your grad degree for being a reverse nazi.

  85. nick demske

      wow. a lot of vitriol here. that’s too bad, since I feel like this post was put up with real human concerns.

      Blake, you summed it up, for me, in your comment. It would be like publishing a bowdlerized John Wilmott collection–I would see that as an abuse of the text because Wilmott wrote what he wrote with the intention of making reading uncomfortable. While racial epithets like nigger are evolutionary, and so of course wouldn’t have necessarily been experienced the same way by Twain that any readers of this blog might experience it/them today, Twain was brilliant and I imagine he included the word where and when he did because it made HIM uncomfortable in a way that was subtler and less common than today. I would feel justified in assuming at least a great possibility that Twain wanted readers to grow uncomfortable with the term.

      It’s funny how an attempt to protect people’s comfort levels so often has the absolute opposite effect. On me, anyways.

  86. Adam Marston

      providing more choice toward reading I don’t think is a bad thing, even if you disagree with that reading. I don’t disagree with the word nigger or that it’s an important word for historical, textual, cultural, mathematical, whatever reasons. But I don’t disagree that it can be removed either. I mean, fuck, arguing against censorship is a form of censorship. Just saying.

  87. Cwunsch

      I appreciate your comments very much. Thank you for making them. They have helped me to continue thinking about this issue.

  88. Michael Copperman

      Just because you can infer from context a part of Twain’s intended meaning doesn’t mean that the word ‘nigger’ isn’t essential to the book and its meaning. As someone pointed out earlier, if replacing the word ‘enables’ Huck Finn to be discussed, it does so only in places where nothing will really be said about the book.

  89. Zack Kenyon

      brevity is the soul of wit.

  90. Zack Kenyon

      how on earth does one go about trolling this topic?

      just kidding, I will try to be concise, and much too late, but it’s the internet and I can do what I want.

      Preventing people from being racist is unconstitutional, and also, notably, wrong. If Joe schmoe wants to say the word nigger, he can. It is an important part of the world that we simply let people hate us. It is not a crime, and (presumably) we would like the same right unconditionally afforded to ourselves. It is not the business of the community to force you to keep a specific frame of mind, unless you’re a totalitarian, in which case I disagree with you on a more profound level.

      That said, censoring a book is not unethical provided certain criteria are met.

      (1) The book must be available in an uncensored form to all citizens afforded the right to freedom of thought. (this is critical, and is required; note that children do not necessarily apply)

      (2) The content of the work cannot be altered significantly, that is, it is unethical to alter someone’s hard work because you think it could be better. We have a right to work alone on our projects, and for said projects to retain their integrity. Since Twain is not here to say what we are allowed to do and what we are not, we have to restrict ourselves to merely being reasonable.

      Most of the debate happens here: the question, “Is Huck Finn dramatically altered by the removal of the n-word”, is obviously dependent on how much content is carried by the usage of the word by the characters. Many people think that the word is used to describe the setting, and this is a minor alteration, since the 19th century south is already pretty well-known to have been nonchalant about their racism, whereas were you to believe that the word is mostly used to accent character interactions, this could be a major part of the book, and without the author’s perspective, this is an incredibly objective problem.

      (3) The alterations must not be ridiculous. In other words, there must be some sort of reason to alter the piece. This is fairly straightforward, and though there is some disagreement as to whether the removal of the n-word accomplishes anything at all, enough people feel that it would improve the work that censorship should not be immediately rejected on these grounds.

      (4) the motivation for altering the piece must be ideological. Money, editorialism, etc. are not ethically acceptable reasons to ask an artist to change his work, and though artists do change their work all the time for this reason, Mark Twain is dead, and cannot OK it.

      I’m sure I could come up with more criteria, but I wrote this mostly to not think about some stupid girl, and sleep is a much better tool for that, and I’m tired.

  91. Anonymous

      For what it’s worth, my own experience with this book is that I’ve read it twice: once on my own in high school, and once as a child, when it was read to me aloud by my father. This really is a great book for that- it is a wonderful adventure story in addition to being an important exploration of slavery and racism, which were concepts I was only beginning to understand at the time. My dad intentionally left out the word “nigger,” and even told me at the time that he wasn’t sure whether he ought to or not, but he felt uncomfortable saying it, didn’t think I needed to know it, and knew that I’d read it again in full when I was older. I don’t think I lost anything from his reading of the text. Anyway.

  92. Guestagain

      I have to admit with all due vitriol that the dithering twisted-up logic employed to defend this is impressive, primarily by Alan Gribben. I trust my friendly neighborhood paternalistic scholar to make multiple versions of timeless books to ensure the kiddie’s fragile psyches are not damaged by the truth. The academic community is about as far outside of the truth business as the political community anyhow. Polymorphic art. Welcome to the future.

  93. Charles Dodd White
  94. Guestagain

      This isn’t surprising but the idea is to make Mark Twain more accessible by offering a censored version of the book. Who would make their day that much more difficult by using the written version with these words and all their baggage? Step back from the N and I words to see if we censor books to make them accessible then we’ll never get anything good. This is like something Wall Mart would do.

  95. I eat the internet for breakfast, and so can you! | The Book Lady's Blog

      […] Coming soon: a new, N-word free version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn […]

  96. NLY

      Reading through this thread, maybe they don’t have to go so far. Apparently all they really have to do is go through and put all 219 instances of the word nigger in quotes.