Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer censored by publisher

New South Books, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is censoring two of Mark Twain's great literary masterpieces: Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Publishers plan to replace the 'n' word with "slave" to sooth the sensibilities of readers of these books who apparently suffer from swooning episodes whenever they encounter the word.

Where are the protests from the American Library Association? Where are the Banned Books Week people? Where are all the groups who are always whooping and hollering every time some timid conservative parent raises her trembling hand to ask if a passage in some book chosen for a class is really appropriate?

The silence is deafening.

8 comments:

Singring said...

Every month or so you write a post that I can agree with. This is one of them. It is a disgrace to be censoring an American classic in any way, shape or form.

Now if only the right were to show the same outrage about entire books being banned from school libraries and reading curricula because of fundamentalist parent's whining, we'd all be in a better place.

Anonymous said...

"Where are the protests from the American Library Association? Where are the Banned Books Week people? Where are all the groups who are always whooping and hollering every time some timid conservative parent raises her trembling hand to ask if a passage in some book chosen for a class is really appropriate?"

Actually, the ALA and Banned Books Week has been all over previous attempts to ban or censor Huckleberry Finn. This incident just happened. Perhaps Martin should do a google search before he posts.

Singring said...

For example:

IN 2006 ALA had the book at number 5 on its list of the 100 most banned books and was number 14 for the decade.

I agree. Research is not Martin's strong suit.

One Brow said...

They are not banning Huckleberry Finn, they are selling it.

If Twain had been writing for a modern audience, or an audiance that reacted to the n-word the way modern audiances do, I don't think Twain would have chosen to use that word. He wasn't writing to upset people with his word choice.

For the limited purpose of getting kids to read this book without getting so angry at a particular word that they lose sight of the rest of the work, this seems like a reasonable choice.

Thomas said...

"If Twain had been writing for a modern audience, or an audiance that reacted to the n-word the way modern audiances do, I don't think Twain would have chosen to use that word."

Absolutely he would. The racism in that book is supposed to be disgusting and shocking. You might as well say that had Faulkner written Sanctuary more recently he would have taken out the rape because we find it offensive. That's the point.

One Brow said...

The racism in that book is supposed to be disgusting and shocking.

If he had wanted the racism to be verbally disgusting and offensive on the surface, he could have chosen different words that, in his time, would have been more obviously offensive. Instead, he allowed the racism to be shocking and disgusting in its application.

Further, IIRC Huck himself is still using the n-word at the end of the book. Is that because Huck at that time is still a shockingly disgusting racist?

Twain was trying to sell books, and wanted just enough controversy to increase sales. Do you think that would apply to his language in today's environment?

Thomas said...

Onebrow,

That's not how literature works. Even heroes of an author aren't perfect and don't precisely mirror the author's own views, at least if the book is any good. It's irrelevant that Huck doesn't become a saint by the end of the book.

Nor is it a problem that the racism portrayed by Mark Twain may be more offensive to us now than it was to him then. So what? It manages to both accurately illustrate the racism of the time and show how far we've come. Toning down the racist content in the book would have the effect of white-washing our history.

Nor again does it matter whether Twain would have written the book differently if he were alive today. To extract an author writing about contemporary history from that point in history and pretend they lived at some other time is an entirely useless exercise that entirely misses the point of the historicity of literature.

One Brow said...

Thomas,

Those are great arguments when the goal is to preserve the book in its current form, or to reach students who have atained enough sophistication that they can read the language and remain objective enough to evaluate it in its place and time. I'm sure that happens at many high schools.

Many high school need to teach students that are not ready for that process. Your position of not changing the book means that these students won't be exposed to the book at all, or that the exposure will result in too mcuh focus on one particular vocabulary choice and not enough on the message of the book. If I have to choose between losing the message of the book in its vocabulary, not teaching Huckleberry Finn at all, or teaching a version slightly edited, I see the third option as the least undesirable.

I am curious if you see a realistic fourth option. Based on my experiences, I don't.