Thursday, January 6, 2011


Book-burning righties on the march again?

Um, not exactly.

Allow us to get our righteous indignation on.

A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is missing something.

Throughout the book — 219 times in all — the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave,” a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”

Mr. Gribben, who combined “Huckleberry Finn” with “Tom Sawyer” in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that “Huckleberry Finn” had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”)

Yes, you are. Yes, you are sanitizing Mark Twain. How can "cleaning-up" any unsavory language be considered anything but? And so noble of this guy, Gribben, to take it upon himself to unburden the unwashed masses our obsession with this word.

Mr. Gribben said no schools had expressed interest yet in teaching the book — nor did he say what ages he thought the edition appropriate for. In his introduction, however, he writes that “even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative.”

If that last sentence means what we think it means, that was precisely Twain's intent: to inform the reader of the ugliness of slavery and racial prejudice. Doesn't anyone think things through anymore?

But hey, why stop there? Why not scrub the books of any and all unpleasantness and unseemly situations? (Because white washing fences really sucks) And we'll label it the McDonaldization of American literature because it really is the bland, predictable sameness that you get at every single franchise that has been the key to McDonald's success.

Part of the reason the NFL is so successful is because of its rigid consistency. On any given Sunday during the fall, you can turn on the T.V. at 10 A.M. Pacific and again at 1:15 P.M. Pacific and be assured that you will be witnessing a professional football game kickoff. Same for Sunday and Monday evenings. You can bank on these things happening.

So let's gut the American classics in the same manner in order to make sure everyone is reading the same thing to ensure, in part, that no one is resenting any textual encounters with racial appellatives.

We remember reading both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn back in the 5th or 6th grade but do you know what we don't remember? We don't remember being traumatized by the word "nigger". And do you know what else we don't remember? Thinking that the usage of the term in these American classics somehow constituted an implicit approval of the term.

It's a crazy notion, we realize, but we do remember that a grade-schooler could read these books and come away from the books with the distinct notion that the "offending" term was vile and dehumanizing which, of course, was the very intention of the author.

How can this guy Gribbin call himself a professor of English and not realize this?

It's madness and it's got to stop.


Road Dawg said...

Mrs. Dawg gave me the biography for Christmas. Very tough read.

This battle has been raging longer than the latest editor's new publication.

Part of reading Mark Twain is the appreciation for the context and historical value. The author’s words are not the character’s words. By editing the character’s words, the historical content of the narrative is diminished.

I had to explain to my children when Tom told Aunt Sally his head was wet from pumping water whereby a daily chore was pumping water at the well and carrying it to the house. The concept of no running water within the home was illustrated in his narrative by Tom lying to his aunt to get out of getting caught for swimming instead of going to school. “It was so hot, some of us pumped water on our heads, see my collar is still wet” Likewise, the use of the term nigger in context is important to understand the characters, mood of the nation and the period of time, whether used in a pejorative sense or not.

Twain clearly struggled with slavery and his use of the word can be revisited as negative, but Huck and Tom clearly cared for and respected Jim, the hero of the story.

All of his writings indicate Mark Twain supported the dignity of all human beings, and the damage by the use of the term in context is not as damaging as the censorship of the literary composition.

Dean said...

Can't add anything to that. Thanks, 'Dawg.