The bastardization of literature: Debasing the works of Mark Twain

by Sheila J Tofflemire on Friday, January 7, 2011, 9:21 am · 1 comment

in News,Publishing,Trends

The politically-correct censors among us are hard at work, this time trying to sanitize history and erase the racial and ethnic slurs in selected classic literature:

Mark Twain wrote that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.” A new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer will try to find out if that holds true by replacing the word “nigger” with the word “slave” in an effort not to offend readers.

Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the racially offensive slur appears 219 times in Huck Finn and four times in Tom Sawyer

This isn’t the first attempt at censoring Twain’s masterpieces in an attempt to whitewash history; here’s hoping this time around they’ll meet with the same lack of success. These politically-correct busybodies provide little benefit and, in fact, eliminate the opportunity Twain provided to educate children on issues of racism surrounding the use of such a highly-charged word.

I have to wonder as well about the ignorance of some of today’s authors. Canadian novelist Austin Clarke, in this CBC report on The National, condemned Twain’s classic Huck Finn as a “racist book.” I have to wonder from that statement whether he’s actually read the book, or if he has, I question his comprehension and interpretation. Clarke went on to say that he doesn’t even feel “softening the language” in the book would make it more acceptable to him. Maybe he’d prefer we just ban the book outright?

An argument could be made for leaving the discussion of these classics to a college-age group. Perhaps high-school students are still too immature, and black students shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable in the classroom by the reading of such an offensive word. Then again, what about some of the rap music that these same students listen to? How about using the book to teach children of the harmful nature of racism, as this parent did here:

When reading Tom Sawyer to my 7 year old daughter, I was caught off guard when encountering the n-word. I wasn’t sure if I should just ignore it or read it as written. I decided to stop and give her a brief history of black slaves and what this word meant then and now. In the end it spurred a great discussion and with it a respect in my 7 year old of how damaging this word can be. This realization never would have happened if the word was censored out of this classic.

Why is Twain — who was an abolitionist — and his classics singled out, along with other masterpieces like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, as racist when nothing could be further from the truth? Why isn’t there the same push to ban or sanitize Roots by Alex Haley?

Besides the N-word, the censors also intend to change “half-breed” to “half-blood.” Did they get the idea from Harry Potter? I wonder if a hundred years from now if we’ll be revisiting Rowling’s work and trying to erase the term “mud-blood” from her children’s fantasy series. This is the kind of silliness that politically-correct censorship can lead to. Is Cher’s song Half-Breed next on their sanitation list?

Here is my solution to thwart the censors: Don’t buy the sanitized version that corrupts Twain’s carefully chosen words. Go to Project Gutenberg and download the original in eBook form.


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