The sensitive may wish to avert their eyes:
“It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way.” — Mark Twain in “Huck Finn”
Some idiot is changing Mark Twain’s great book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to make it more palatable to the kiddies by taking out that word.
You know: THAT word. The N-word. Rhymes with bigger? It’s in the quote. Yeah, that one.
Yeah, sure, it gives people the willies. My boss wouldn’t let me use it in a column in the paper on the book last year. I was writing that column because Weber Reads was using Huck Finn as one of its two books for community discussion.
Look at that quote– Huck is humbling himself to Jim after playing a dirty trick on him. He has learned and realized that Jim is a human worth of consideration, not just some sub-human object. He realizes that black people have feelings!
Would substituting the word “slave” in that quote give that quote, that moment, that amazing realization by Huck, the same power it has? Does the word “slave” carry the same cultural and societal weight that the quote has as it stands?
No. Not even close. Blacks — not just slaves, but black people in general — were regarded as sub-human in the time period Huck Finn takes place. That’s why Twain wrote the language, and that word, the way he did. Jim is the only person in that whole book worthy of respect, and in this paragraph Twain shows us why.
That single word was good for a lot of Weber Reads discussion — we held several very informative and lively meetings. Feelings were all over the place about that word. Some were high offended, some felt the word has great power, some felt keeping it hidden gives it more power, and on and on.
Which is precisely why it shouldn’t be removed.
I heard the guy doing this being interviewed on NPR today — he says he wants the book to be more acceptable, without controversy. He said Twain “belongs to us all” and so can be changed. He says Twain revised his own autobiography so why can’t we change Huck, ignoring the fact that Twain never finished his autobiography so he had every right to change it, but he did finish Huck Finn, and when a book is finished, it is done, you don’t mess with it.
Ray Bradbury, who wrote “Fahrenheit 451″ and “the Martian Chronicles” and many others, predicted all this. It is very scary how clearly Ray saw the future. It is tempting to give him a call and ask him to pick the stock market for me, so clearly can he see the future.
In a new afterward — or forward, I forget which — to “Fahrenheit 451″ (click here) he says that he is contacted often by people who think he ought to re-think some of what he wrote in his earlier books, to make his works more acceptable today. Did his portrayal of blacks in “Martian Chronicles” really have to be quote so stereotypical? Could he give women better roles?
As he says:
There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feel it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.
I dare not claim to say it better than Ray. The jerk going after Mark Twain with his censorous axe, afraid some little darling will see a bad word and have to deal with the real world, deserves to be dramatically and vigorously ignored by one and all, however.
Give Ray the final word:
For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmild teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.