But wait! It gets better! More on Huck Finn and the n-word.

Share

Voilà!

Yesterday, I wrote about the latest flap over Mark Twain‘s use of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn. NYC Councilman Charles Barron apparently thinks the book should be banned:  “I find it interesting that Huckleberry Finn is a classic when it says [the n-word] 200 times,” he said.

Barron is not alone in his reservations.  Poet and professor Sam Gwynn made this comment on yesterday’s post:

Gwynn...a p.o.v. to be reckoned with

“Frankly, I just can’t teach it any longer. I know it’s great, and I can lecture for a day or so about how Twain is being faithful to the dialects and to the way that people spoke back then. But trying to lecture about its literary merits takes a back seat when I see how African American students (I’m talking about teenage sophomores, taking the class for core credit) are reacting to the iterations of THAT WORD. The problem is that Twain doesn’t distinguish between those who are using the word in a “kindly” manner (we could probably assume that this is the only word for black people that Huck has ever heard) and those who are using it an an epithet. Used indiscriminately in these ways, it just makes everyone in a classroom uncomfortable. Maybe if I were a better (or younger) teacher I could use this book to challenge all kinds of assumptions about language and art. I just don’t find myself up to the fight anymore, at least at the sophomore level. I think this is a pretty good 2/3 of a novel, but I really wonder why it has become canonized as the GAN.”  [That’s the Great American Novel for the uninitiated.]

Gribben's got the answer?

Now, here’s the news flash:  A constant reader tipped me off that Barron’s problem is about to be solved by NewSouth books!  Dr. Alan Gribben is publishing a new edition that, among other innovations, dispenses with the n-word altogether.

Gribben explains that Twain’s novels “can be enjoyed deeply and authentically without those continual encounters with hundreds of now-indefensible racial slurs.” It is the first volume to wash out Twain’s mouth with soap.  Gribben believes that the presence of the n-word has gradually diminished the readership of Twain’s masterpiece.

Gribben said that another radical departure from standard editions is that these will be published as the continuous narrative that he says the author originally envisioned. “People during that time did not think of him as a fiction writer,” the Twain scholar told The Montgomery Advertiser. “Twain had difficulty at times developing plot lines for his novels and much preferred his travel books.”

But dumping the n-word is clearly the controversy that will boost sales.

Original as rough draft for translator

I think he’s on to something.  As a woman, I have always had issues about the ending of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. You know, the bit where Kate kneels down and blathers on about being her husband’s slave.  Surely one of our modern-day blank verse wizards could crank out something a little less offensive?  For that matter, I would like to see the b-word, the c-word, and the w-word eliminated from our public discourse about females running for office.

And there’s way, way too much violence in the Bible.  Lots of foreskins gathered, a number of rapes (including one gang rape), massacres on a regular basis. Think of all those psalms that begin with rivers or vineyards and end with a wish that someone’s brains be dashed out against a wall.  These nasty bits could do with a serious editing and revision … whoops!  Stephen Mitchell already has.

Seriously, though.  Sam Gwynn’s objections to the book are not to be taken lightly — Sam is a smart guy.  But the Bowdlerization of Twain concerns me.

The new Twain will be out in February.  Can we wait?

Postscript on 1/4:  NewSouth books replies in the comments section below:

Cynthia and Sam, thank you both for your thought-provoking comments about this. The best thing NewSouth’s edition of Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn could do is generate more discussion about race, language, and literature, and we were pleased to read your post.

Again, we’ll note that the inspiration for this volume of Twain’s books came from Dr. Gribben’s actual conversations with teachers, uncomfortable with or in some cases restricted from teaching especially Huckleberry Finn because of the language within. We see our edition as a teaching tool with numerous applications, from the teacher who wants to teach Twain’s works without getting into the language controversy, to a teacher who wants to teach the NewSouth edition side-by-side with another edition to specifically discuss controversial language and responses to the two works. Before this edition, that wouldn’t have been possible.

The publisher promises to post the introduction to the book on its website soon.

Postscript on 1/5:  Hey, we started a fire with this one!  First the Book Haven, then the world: check it out here.


Tags: , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “But wait! It gets better! More on Huck Finn and the n-word.”

  1. Sam Gwynn Says:

    No, Bowdlerization is not the answer. The text is there for those who want to read it–to love or deplore. My problem is entirely personal; repeated attempts to “justify” the novel to students tired me to the point where I couldn’t enjoy it anymore, and if one dreads teaching a particular work he or she would be better off simply finding something else.

    Barron and Gribben would make great cabin mates for a slow trip to China.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Had a feeling you might say something in this vein — also had a feeling you might say it better than I expected, which you did.

    Happy New Year, Sam!

  3. Tweets that mention The Book Haven » Blog Archive » But wait! It gets better! More on Huck Finn and the n-word. -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ted Gioia and chaven. chaven said: Update on Charles Barron, Huck Finn, and the n-word: Bowdlerized edition of Mark Twain to be published in February — http://bu.tt/aL7 […]

  4. NewSouth Books Says:

    Cynthia and Sam, thank you both for your thought-provoking comments about this. The best thing NewSouth’s edition of Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn could do is generate more discussion about race, language, and literature, and we were pleased to read your post.

    Again, we’ll note that the inspiration for this volume of Twain’s books came from Dr. Gribben’s actual conversations with teachers, uncomfortable with or in some cases restricted from teaching especially Huckleberry Finn because of the language within. We see our edition as a teaching tool with numerous applications, from the teacher who wants to teach Twain’s works without getting into the language controversy, to a teacher who wants to teach the NewSouth edition side-by-side with another edition to specifically discuss controversial language and responses to the two works. Before this edition, that wouldn’t have been possible.

    Dr. Gribben talks more about the books in his introduction to the volume, which we’ll post shortly on our website, http://www.newsouthbooks.com/twain. We hope you’ll take a look at what he has to say; thanks again.

  5. Edited for Content | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes Says:

    […] Cynthia Haven, who first brought word of the NewSouth book, has heard from professors sharing their reservations about discussing the book. But the book doesn’t fix the problem so much as it identifies a market niche: People who […]

  6. Mel Says:

    Oh my God I am so sick of this wank. If teachers don’t have it in them to properly teach this book, how bout THEY CHOOSE NOT TO TEACH IT. Plain and simple. I didn’t read Huck Finn in high school and I’m not all that worse off for it (I ended up reading it in my own time in college). I think this inability to handle the racial slurs in the book is not a reflection on the students, but a reflection on the teacher’s incompetence.
    On the other side of the token, replacing it with the word slave is, in my opinion, FAR more offensive. Because Jim is NOT a slave for a good portion of the book, and continuing to consider him a slave seems, to me, degrading.
    Still. I’m only a 20something white chick with an opinion that doesn’t matter. Perhaps we should ask African-American students and teachers how they feel about it. They’re the audience we’re worried about, right?

  7. More on 'Huck Finn' and Censorship - Brainstorm - The Chronicle of Higher Education Says:

    […] to in Haven’s post) defending the book and decrying censorship. One day later, Haven added another post that included this comment by poet Sam […]

  8. A not-so-famous writer Says:

    Look, censorship in any way, shape, or form is absolutely WRONG.

  9. Carol Hodson Says:

    You cant change history by rewriting it. How can the modern generation understand slavery unless they understand that the white people of the day did not see black people as people. They saw them as the ‘n’ word which is means less than a human being. Perhaps our modern black american should relcaim the word ”nigger the way the homosexual population have claimed “gay” and make it mean “black, proud and free from slavery”

  10. Carol Hodson Says:

    You cant change history by rewriting it. How can the modern generation understand slavery unless they understand that the white people of the day did not see black people as people. They saw them as the ‘n’ word which is means less than a human being. Perhaps our modern black american should relcaim the word ”nigger the way the homosexual population have claimed “gay” and make it mean “black, proud and free from slavery”

  11. Mike Anderson Says:

    I am a male of Italian heritage, 24 years old, serving in the Navy.
    I am also in agreement with Mel, if we ignore the racism of that age then we are ignoring, in essence, everything that MLK Jr. and the rest of the African-American populace fought for, education is the foundation of the furtherment of the human race, and ignorance is the cancer that erodes the mind.
    Personally I have used the word but only to gain a further understanding of the mentality and plight of the late 1800’s (in the company of 2 of my close African-American friends)
    They understand my disposition and also agree with me.
    However, on the other side of the fence, there are people out there who still decide to use/receive the word as a derogatory and offensive term.
    As a general populace, we have still not progressed passed the racist mindset, (average IQ is accumulated and divided by the total populace in the given demographic)
    This only reassures my confidence in Mel’s comment that it is the result of the teaching system, perhaps not the teachers themselves, or possibly a mixture of both; Still sourcing back to the teaching system itself as the fault line.
    Carol Hodson, I believe, is also on the level of education Mel and I are getting at.
    The word does need to be reclaimed and has needed a reformation since the equalization of the human race in America as a whole.
    It is evident to me that any school deciding to accept the reformation of the novel (and it is a classic for a reason) is clearly behind the changing of times. Slavery has been abolished since January 1, 1863 – (Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued. It promised freedom to all slaves once the North was victorious in the Civil War.)
    It is time the mentality of Morgan Freeman is adopted by all.

    Link to Morgan Freeman’s interview – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2d2SzRZvsQ

    Racism exists because it is taught.

  12. Owen Tackitt Says:

    Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Very useful information particularly the last part :) I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  13. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Carol, Apologies – This one was in an ancient spam folder and just recovered. – C.H.

Leave a Reply