Don't Mess with My History (Rant)

For those who missed it, Publishers Weekly has announced that NewSouth publishers are going to be putting out a politically correct version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  They are removing the "n-word" and replacing it with "slave." You can read the Publishers Weekly article here.

Those who read the sanitized version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn* are, in my ever so humble opinion, not reading Huckleberry Finn. This offends me on so many levels, I can't see straight. It's capitulating to the narrow minded masses. It's messing with our cultural history. And it's not going to do a darn thing to make this book more accessible to modern readers.

I read this book in high school. Then I read it in an American literature course. Then I read it again, 6 times for a literary criticism class. I don't think it's literary genius. But I do consider it to be important for those seeking to understand life in America in the 19th century.

What's next? Putting a diaper on Michelangelo's statue of David because we find his package offensive? Painting clothes on the Birth of Venus where her hair just doesn't cover that left breast? I'm not comparing Mark Twain to Botticelli or Michelangelo, but I am comparing art to art. You can't just mess with art because some piece of it offends you. Don't look at it or read it if you can't handle it in its entirety. But for crying out loud, don't butcher it to make it fit your own level of comfort.

Political correctness should be about moving forward. Not about rewriting the past.

Are those 219 instances of the word "nigger" important? If they were so unimportant, there wouldn't be a controversy. They are important for the very reason so many want them removed: they are offensive. They make an impact. And they show us just how ugly that word and all it represented could be. Changing the word to slave may pacify the uptight parents who challenge Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and get it removed from classrooms. But it fails to convey the very thing Huck Finn should teach us. That our history was not pretty. That language can hurt. And that we have come a long, long way from the days of Mark Twain.

*Notice the lack of "the." The first edition [and all scholarly editions] did not have a "The." Hey, I did learn something during all of those rereads.


  1. This strikes me as censorship. Plain and simple. Sanitizing writing from another era doesn't change the fact that those words represent how people thought during that time period. If we don't read about and understand the thoughts and actions of other times...and learn from and change the ones we find offensive--rather than just blotting them out as if they never happened--then we aren't learning anything.

    Heaven forbid that we be made "uncomfortable" over anything we read. I find that when I'm most "uncomfortable" I am doing the most thinking. I can't believe an English professor is behind this. What other classics does he think needs "cleansing"???

  2. @Bev,

    I think it's censorship, too. And I think the "official" reasoning behind the edition is bogus. I can't see those who think the words should be removed proclaiming Huck Finn OK to read once it has been sanitized.

    Part of the purpose of art and literature is to elicit a reaction. To affect the reader or viewer. Like you, some of the most uncomfortable reads are the ones that have affected me the most.