I’m going to assumed that most of you have at some point read all of, or parts of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I remember getting Huck Finn as a RIF book in the fourth grade when I was in Ms. Deloach’s class. (FES Wildcats stand up!) Huck Finn is set sometime between the mid-1830’s to the mid-1840 in Missouri along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Not to give a complete recap of the tome but the two main characters are of course Tom Sawyer’s homeboy Huckleberry Finn and a slave named Jim. Huck is running away from his worthless father Pap*, and Jim is trying to make it to Ohio to buy his family’s freedom. Due to the fact that the book is set in Missouri during the pre- Civil War period the “n-word” is used often in reference to Jim. (By “n-word” I mean “n***er”, there I said it.) In addition to the racial epitaphs used in reference to blacks there are a few used in reference to Native Americans also.
This is where the problem starts. Recently a movement was started to replace “n***er” and other epitaphs within Huck Finn because the word has been deemed as harsh and antiquated for our modern times. “N***er” is to be replaced by the word “slave”. This is of course where I take issue with replacing words in works of fiction.
I fancy myself a historian and writer so I take great issue with the editing and changing of other folks’ work. As a historian I want to see the absolute truth told. As a writer I believe that you cannot tell another man’s story for him. (This applies to both art and real life.) I may not like a man’s story but it is in fact his to tell. (Everything isn’t for me to like anyway.) When you combine a work of fiction set in a specific historic time period, I prefer that work to reflect and respect the setting as accurately as possible.
Missouri in the 1830’s and 1840’s, much like the rest of America was a pretty racially insensitive place. This is widely known fact as well as a blight on America’s story but it is still an integral part of America’s story no matter what members of the Sons of the Confederacy and various other “The Antebellum Period of America was freaking awesome” groups may tell you.** Black people were referred to as “n***er*. As wrong as it was or is this is a fact. Huck Finn reflects this. Mark Twain did his best to stay true to the historical setting of his novel.
Should one of America’s finest works of fiction get sanitized for the sake of future generations of fourth graders? I say no! Here are two things that I learned from my history studies: 1) History, the story of man kind, can be both a beautiful and horrific thing. 2) When a nation or people begins to tell its story to the younger generations you have to and must tell the entire story. Le bien et le mauvais must be instilled to let them know how things were to do anything otherwise would be disingenuous. ***
Tell me if I’m missing the mark on this? Should we just ignore documented historical, social attitudes for the sake of “cleaning things up”? Should we even tamper with classical works? Does removing books from reading lists do a great disservice to students or does it help them? I’ve voiced my thoughts, so now voice yours.
Vaya con Dios.
*As sh***y fathers go, Huck and Tom had the market cornered.
**One of my coworkers asked my why people in South Carolina and the South keep celebrating this time period when it only resulted in a massive boot in the a**? Now that
I think about it this would be like Mitch “Blood” Green walking around celebrating Mike Tyson beating his a** in the street that time.
***I think America as a whole is often patronizing and disingenuous towards its children. I don’t have not nary a child but I do know that the little ones are smarter than we give them credit for. Just my thoughts.