General

Huckleberry Finn and the word nigger

Alan Gribben, a Auburn University professor and Mark Twain scholar, is planning to release Huckleberry Finn where all instances of the word ‘nigger’ are replaced with ‘slave’. Nigger is an offensive word. There is no denying that and teaching it probably requires a special kind of delicacy. (I’d forgotten Huckleberry Finn is a children’s book; Sayantani reminded me.) According to the Publisher Weekly article, he is doing this because teachers can’t teach Huckleberry Finn since it uses the n-word. Gribben wants to offer a book that can be taught.

Maybe this is a good reason; none of my teachers ever taught this book or even suggested it to me (they knew I loved reading and were always suggesting books). Instead, in 6th grade, my teacher directed me towards Johnny Tremain (this is probably the closest I ever came to it in reading). I learned Huckleberry Finn’s  itself from TV. 🙂 (Since then, I have read the actual book!) So maybe his reasons are good.

Part of the argument is that nigger is used in Huckleberry Finn to mean slave and taking it out doesn’t alter the text’s meaning, just brings it into this decade. It is true; words and their meanings do change.  (i. e. gay) Probably, there was point in time when nigger wasn’t a slur. I decided to look it up the word’s history and ran across these articles: The Savvy Sista, Abolish the N Word, Harp Week. The last one is probably the best of all three. It says by the early 19th century, nigger had already become an insult. According to wiki, Huckleberry Finn was published in the US in 1885 so . . .

It also mentions that sometimes the word is used among black people themselves and it is not an insult. I remember seeing that in high school myself (high school wasn’t that long ago. In  the 2000’s decade. :)) I will admit, it was confusing because everyone else (TV, parents, teachers, other black people) said it was a bad word. I soon realized that only some of the black boys used it and only among themselves. I figured it for some odd teenage black boy thing.

And yet, despite that, I can never be in favor in censorship. Which is what this is – blatant censorship. It should be possible to teach this book, without censorship, and put it in the appropriate context.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Huckleberry Finn and the word nigger

  1. Absolutely horribly idea. Of course ‘nigger’ is a bad word and the world would be better off without it. However, it is there and we have to deal with it. I don’t even like it when people say ‘the n-word’ instead, because that is giving the word too much power.
    In the case of Huckleberry Finn – or any other writing – it would be a violation of literature. For better or worse, it is the language Mark Twain used. The very thought of changing the words in the text evokes the images of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Political correctness is taken way, way too far if it results in some kind of historical revisionism.

  2. I can’t say the word ‘nigger’ is a good one, it’s not, but I don’t think getting rid of the word is the way to deal with it. As has been pointed out, the meanings of words can change so why not change the meaning of the word instead? It might be easier.

    And yeah, I can not stress enough how bad it is to change something like that. You don’t see them doing that with Shakespeare do you?

    1. Maybe changing the mean of the word would be easier but still pretty difficult! lol Lots of people would have to embrace and I don’t know what else.

      Yeah, true, except Shakespeare is the Bard and an example of literary perfection.

  3. I’m writing a script set in 1870’s Canada. If Quentin Tarrantino can use “nigger” eight times in his movie “Django”, I’ll use it too, albeit as a derogatory term. Since the word is shunned and no longer in use, at some point it is historic (like Shakespeare’s plays?) and therefore accepted as a part of history. No?

Say something and make my day!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s