Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To Re-Write 'Huck Finn' and possibly history itself?!

As an educated dog who loves to write and would prefer to never be censored, I need to have my say on the hot topic of the day. You may agree or disagree and you may leave a comment stating as such, but please refrain from using foul or derogatory language or YOU will be censored!

I have read many articles today regarding the replacement of the 'N-word' with the word 'slave' in Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and it has me quite upset. I am not upset because I think the 'N-word' is an appropriate word to throw around (it is definitely not in my 'vernacular', but more on that in a moment); I am upset that people continue to think censorship is a more acceptable recourse than education in counteracting ignorance and racism.

Yes, the 'N-word' appears in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a whopping 219 times. However, that language depicts America's past - a past before the Civil War where slavery and ignorance were the norm. Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the perspective of Huck, in the vernacular of the day - not in literary language! - meaning Huck speaks to the reader using the language or dialect native to a region (in this case, the pre-Civil War Southern United States).

If you think the way Huck speaks is inappropriate and derogatory, you're right, it is...but if you think the "good ole boys" in the pre-Civil War Southern U.S. didn't speak that way, you would be wrong.  I am fairly certain that if you were to travel to the Deep South of the U.S. today, you may still find folks speaking in a similar derogatory and ignorant fashion!

So, how does one combat this ignorance? Surely not by censoring words from a classic novel. Yes, the 'N-word' is offensive but to just erase it...? How can you tell people a word is 'bad' or forbidden without educating them as to why it is bad?

Censorship just stifles discussion (it's a racist novel/it's not a racist novel) and maintains the status quo whereas education (reading while placing the novel in its historical context) may have a formative effect on the minds and characters of future generations.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the reader is transported back in history to look at the perpetrators of slavery and racism and find they are looking at a kind, gentle, good-hearted Aunt Sally. In reality, the villains who made slavery work were ordinary folks, like Aunt Sally, who did nothing more than fail to question the set of circumstances that surrounded them. Yes, they failed to judge that slavery was evil and they deluded themselves into thinking they were doing the right thing. Yes, they were racist and their language was derogatory. Yes, that is American history.

I think @peterflom said (tweeted) it best today:
"It's not Huckleberry Finn that's offensive, it's American history that's offensive, and accurately portrayed in the book."

Replacing the 'N-word' with "slave" in an effort not to offend readers is just brushing our history aside. A better solution to dealing with the legacy of this period in American history may be to use the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to explore slavery and racism, lest history repeats itself.

They say only 'ignorance is bliss' and unfortunately, the 'truth does hurt'...but there is also the saying, 'in truth lies victory'. And...victory over racism can only be achieved through education based on truth not through censorship or a re-write of novels or history itself.


  1. You have quite an intellect inside that furry head of yours Oscar. Thanks for providing your insight to such a complicated subject. Personally, I am in agreement with your perspective.

  2. Why thank you, Joke Puppy! That is a wonderful compliment! I think it is such a shame that people prefer to handle difficult situations like this the "easy way" (censorship).

  3. Our Mama says she agrees with you. She read Huckleberry Finn when she was a kid, but even as a young kid she understood that this was how things were at that point in time. It wasn't right, but its part of history that can't just be blocked out! Our Mama thinks people could learn from it, instead of ignoring it.

  4. Oz yoo is super smart, an we duz ave to agree wiv yoo completely. An so duz our mum. We az never read thiz book, but we might get it on mumz kindle n ave a peek! Wufs from milo n rossi x

  5. We agrees wiv you too Oz about Huck Finn. Owever, we was given a Thomas the Tank Engine book for Willium when he was 3 yrs old - it was an original print from the 1950s and conatined the phrase "Thomas's face was as black as a N__ with coal dust". Obv, this was deleted from all later versions and I fink I supports that cos it was nuffink to do wiv British history and was just casual racism in a chilluns book bout tranes.

  6. Trixie, Lily & Sammy-Joe: Thank you for your comment. I think people get scared to learn the whole truth sometimes.

    Milo, Rossi & Mum: Thanks for your comment. I think its great that you may read the book! The book has been banned so many times, you never know who has/hasn't read it these days.

    Marley: I had NO idea that any author would use that word in a children's book about tranes!! That is inexcusable. It's stuff like that (trying to brainwash kids early in life) that just keeps perpetuating all the "race issues" in our society. I agree with YOU that word should be no where near a children's book!

  7. I think that sometimes humans change things so they don't feel uncomfortable, when they should actually be feeling uncomfortable. Changing the word doesn't alter the original intent of the text. I think it should serve to provoke discussion and show how far attitudes have changed in a positive direction. It would be interesting to hear the views of a non-white person on this matter.


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Cairn cuddles,
Oz the Terrier