'Huckleberry Finn' re-write: Political correctness or censorship?

Librarians to make decision if new version to replace original texts now on shelf

Next month, NewSouth Books will publish a combined edition of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" which will omit a particular racial epithet.

Spearheaded by Twain scholar and Auburn University-Montgomery professor Alan Gribben, the new edition will remove the word "n----r" and/or substitute it for "slave." The word appears in "Huck Finn" over 200 times and has been the source of much contention since the book was published in 1885. According to the American Library Association, it has also been among the top five books challenged or banned during the 1990s.

Gribben said he hopes that teachers wary of the incendiary language would now be willing to re-embrace the novel. "For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs," Gribben told Publishers Weekly. "I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified."

The news has spread rapidly through district librarians, some of who described the new edition as changing a work of art.

'"I don't think it's a good idea because I think it takes 'Huckleberry Finn' out of the context in which it was written," said Gale Ranch Middle School Librarian Katie Williams. "I understand why (Gribben) wanted to do that because it's a great work and if it makes it more palatable to schools and libraries, I think that's admirable. But I also think that we as educated people can understand why the word was used."

Still, Gribben said he has routinely substituted "slave" at public readings and hears "an audible sigh of relief" from the audience.

"When the younger reader is staring at that word five times on a given page and the instructor is saying, 'Mark Twain didn't mean this and you have to read it with an appreciation of irony,' you're asking a lot of a younger reader," Gribben said.

Dolores Fabel, Monte Vista High's library media teacher, said she plans to discuss the topic at her next librarian meeting.

"Should we change a work of art is the real question," she said. "This is, in a sense, historical fiction. Twain wrote the way it was at the time and if you change that you change the whole complexion and tone of the time."

The controversy made its way up the publicity ladder when Roger Ebert tweeted "I'd rather be called a Nigger than a Slave." Ebert later conceded that he wasn't speaking from personal experience said "I'll never be called a Nigger *or* a Slave, so I should have shut the **** up."

Gribben maintains that readers will still be able to understand Twain's message and social criticism.

"All I'm doing is taking out a tripwire and leaving everything else intact. All his sharp social critique, all his satirical jabs are intact. This novel cannot be made colorblind," he said to USA Today.

While district employees in charge of textbooks were unavailable for comment, SRVUSD Community Relations Coordinator Terry Koehne said the district "hasn't even broached" the subject of replacing old editions of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" with NewSouth's version.


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Posted by steve
a resident of Parkside
on Jan 7, 2011 at 8:34 am

Political correctness or censorship? That's easy---it's both.

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Posted by bob123
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2011 at 8:55 am

A day does not go by that we are not faced with more examples of the soft headedness and lack of strength of character to deal with the real world. More trophies for everyone, stars and stickers for showing up and participating rather than challenging the individual to strive for sucess. It is this type of thinking that makes the warrior a defeated submissive unable to face reality.Lets not ask too much from our students--they might cry!

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Posted by Bill Jamaca
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:01 am

This is literary vandalism and offensive in every way. Simply awful.

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Posted by Michele
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

I have mixed feelings about this. I can see the appeal to change the words so students and schools would be more apt to reading the books. However, in taking out the specific word, you're trying to change part of US history. Yes, this is a book of "fiction", but it's true to the times depicted. It's an "ugly" part of our past, but part of our past that should not be forgotten or re-written because it's not "status-quo" today. In addition, "Jim" was NOT a slave, so calling him Slave Jim doesn't do it justice. I think that if kids are going to read this in school, then we as parents have an obligation to tell them the "truth" behind it. At the very least. That's my two-sense. I'd be happy to have my kids read those books. And I'll be happy to read them (again) with them.

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Posted by Book Lover
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:09 am

Neither - altering history so it is more palatable

Are they going to edit Uncle Tom's cabin, and Fredrick Douglass' Autobiography too? Both use the "N" word. Many books written in other eras use terminology that is today considered degrading to those populations (I can think of several regarding Native Americans, Spanish-Mexicans and various immigrant populations to the US) the books illustrate the common way of thinking and portraying of those ethnic groups during history. I'm also thinking of a number of books portraying German treatment and wording of Jews during Nazism, or those of California using "ch..k" to discribe Asians during the 1800's. Racism is part of human history (and unfortuanately our present). Discriptive words used illustrate the racism. In adding "political correctness" to a classic book, the editor and publisher are in essense changing a perception of history. Mark Twain's writings illustrate a way of life and how language added to the degredation. Changing the word "n...r" to slave, changes the palability to modern readers, but does not convey the degredation that using the "N"- word conveys in the story.

Just my $.02

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Posted by Retiree
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:42 am

Jim IS a slave, an escaped slave, that is why he and Huck are on the run! If they have to substitute a word, "slave" would usually work.
If they read the abridged version, the students need to be aware that the N word is origina, and that "slave" is a substitute. I struggled with this in the classroom. I couldn't say the word when discussing it with my students; it felt just too offensive to me to say it out loud to them. When I used to read a chapter aloud to my students, I would explain that as I was not comfortable reading the "n" word aloud, that I would be reading "slave" in its place. They understood that the n word was there, that it was used by Twain deliberately to show how dehumanizing it was. Twain was absolutely against slavery and the story of the friendship between Huck and Jim shows how different kinds of people can show respect and caring for each other. The story stands true, whether the n word is there or not.

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Posted by jill
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:49 am

I think this is one of the worst cases of pc correctness, the next thing we will have is a CZAR to ban books. Huck Finn is a classic, why change it, it can be discussed in a class room, by an unbiased teacher. It should also be discussed at home. RACISM IS A DEAD ISSUE, GIVE IT UP.

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Posted by Mark
a resident of Gatewood
on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:58 am

Cleansing satirical use of words that are/were used to emphasize problems works towards the exact opposite of what the satirist intended-- an educated, rational discussion of the problem(s), be it slavery, racism, religious intolerance, etc.. Political Correctness is censorship.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 7, 2011 at 11:07 am

Why is it ok for rappers to say the word but not Twain? If it's offensive then take the book out of the high school reading list. This is wrong. It's censorship. Leave the book alone. It was written a long time ago. Young people seem to enjoy rap music without any problems. Stop making such a big deal out of this.

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Posted by Old Guy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

What's next, underwear for the statue of David?

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Posted by Gino
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Its political correctness AND censorship AND stupidity. Odds our, this is the version the left-wing loon educational establishment will have our children read. Why not - they have already loonized most of the history, civics, social studies and language cirriculum that's taught today.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Stoneridge
on Jan 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I think my comment was removed because I used the "n word". The article itself has the word twice!

I don't understand why I would get censored, but the article is okay for publishing.

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Posted by annonymous
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm

You think this censorship is from the left???? Really?????

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Posted by Debby
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Either read the original or don't read it! If you want an abridged edition why don't you get those Classic comic books. Good grief! This re-write is not "abridged" and it is not "literature".

As for the "N" word - my kids thought the "N" word was any word beginning with N meaning Afro-American, e.g. the Negro College Fund is using the "N" word. They said this was what was taught in school. So this mom gave a bit of a different lesson.

Thankfully, our kids have graduated from high school. They have been the butt of racism (yes, here in Pleasanton). (Our children are "brown".) No, racism is NOT a DEAD issue. However, changing literature just makes matters worse.

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Posted by Tennessee Jed
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Jan 9, 2011 at 7:41 am

The first time I ever heard about step and column was in the early 70s when the friend of mine, who by the way was a teacher at that time, described what was at the time, considered a new thing. He explained that by doing extra college work he could be rewarded with pay raises. Additionally he could enhance that with sticking around every year. I thought to myself what a great scam! I was doing it all wrong, here I was going to school so that I could better myself and find a higher paying job and something more rewarding.

I entered engineering field. And it was clear that the only way I could possibly compete would be to stay current on the latest technologies, and to take courses in support of that. I was never given a raise based on my completion of the college classes, and I wouldn't have been given raises had I not performed well. So enshrining step [years of service], and column [advancing one's education] does not seem like a fair policy. And I would not support giving money to that idea either.

I say reward teachers who perform well and obtain excellent results. But not enshrine guaranteed raises based on how long someone sticks around or what they may have completed in college to move them into the next pay grade. It's all about performance and merit. So if a parcel tax is required then I say do away with stepping column and let's pay teachers who perform, what they rightly deserve.

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Posted by Tennessee Jed
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Jan 9, 2011 at 8:01 am

Oops! It appears I posted the above post in the wrong section... As long as we are on this topic, let me just say that,when in the fifth grade, the class read Huckleberry Finn aloud. One student taking one page at a time, we went through the whole thing. I don't ever remember being upset about the language in the book, it just seemed that it was, just what it was.

It just doesn't seem appropriate to rewrite portions of books in the name of political sensibilities. I'm with "Book Lover" on this one. And I'm sick and tired of being offended by all the people who are offended! That's it. I said it. That is all.

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Posted by more PC amuck
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm

steve is right... both political correctness and censorship.
But, since teachers rewrite history daily as they are teaching and lecturing their bias', this is not surprising. More important that we be politically correct, than teach math and science skills so our youth are employable ! !

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Posted by Maria
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2011 at 1:57 am

Oh, for Pete's sake... the PC police strike again.

This sort of thing always has the exact OPPOSITE effect... the mere action of publishing this edition has everyone up in arms! And besides, these are HIGH SCHOOLERS, not 5-year-olds; if they don't know about racism and the n-word by now, there is something seriously wrong...

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Posted by Cindy
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 10, 2011 at 9:49 am

omg, racism is dead?

I started talking my few African american friends who live in Pleasanton, over time they let me know of the horrid things they've endured in our sweet little town. Man I had no idea. At one time I thought we had moved past all of that as well, I was wrong, it's still there, it's just hidden behind our coffee shops and baby buggies on Main Street.

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Posted by Avid Driver
a resident of Castlewood
on Jan 10, 2011 at 10:31 am


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Posted by mooseturd
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jan 10, 2011 at 10:33 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

As soon as I heard this story, I started working on a revised edition of the Bible–– one with all the juicy and offensive stuff removed. It's easy once you download an electronic edition and start using the "replace all" function.

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Posted by Gino
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

Why is it OK for black comedians and rappers to use the N-word routinely, but if a white uses the N-word they have a good probably of being sent to jail? At the same time, blacks commonly use the words cracker, honky and peckerwood to refer to whites and that's OK?

Why is it that we are expected to use the word African- American to refer to blacks which is completely erroneous? There are many Arabs in Africa as well as Caucasians. It reminds me of when it was considered totally inappropriate to call a Mexican a Mexican, even though that is what people from Mexico are called. We went through several decades when the politically-correct thing to do was to (erroneously) refer to Mexicans as Spanish.

Political correctness has gotten completely out of control in this country, while things that are vitally important to the well-being of this country languish. Americans better wake up to what the left-wing loons are doing to this country before it’s too late.

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Posted by tango
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Jan 10, 2011 at 8:45 pm

We seem to all agree that this type of political correctness should not keep happening. SO WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT!!!!!!! ??? We can all sit here and crab about it but , what action can we take? Would like to hear some ideas on what can be done.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Don't buy the book.

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Posted by HotSam
a resident of Southeast Pleasanton
on Jan 11, 2011 at 9:40 am

As stated before, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is written in the first person. Meaning simply that Huck Finn is telling his own story. The character of Huck Finn was not sophisticated or genteel enough to use the word "slave" in place of the N-word. Mark Twain intended for this book to be satirical. You don't see the N-word in "Tom Sawyer" or "Life on the Mississippi" if I recall correctly.

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Posted by Gino
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2011 at 9:11 am

Regarding Tango's request for suggestions on what we are going to do about out-of-control PC. By far the best thing to do is voting out left-wing loons from political offices, as it is these left-wing loons that are continually injecting racism and political correctness into virtually every issue. Just vote them out! Of course, in the Bay Area, that would mean replacing the entire Congressional delegation. That would not only address the PC issue, but it would be immeasurably helpful in so many other ways as well.

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Posted by Mr. Geeneeyus
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

I believe it was either Conan, Jimmy Kimmel or some other late night yahoo that said it best, that in order to keep the story relevant in a modern sense they need to change the "N" word to "Homey."

Peace out P-Town!

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Posted by AD
a resident of Sycamore Place
on Jan 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

As far as I understand book is out of copyright - so anyone has a right to tweak it any way they feel.

Having said that - if they do change it - that should be made amply clear by following some protocols such as

- Noting in the front page that this is a "modified" version and not the original.
- Citing a place where one could get the original.
- Adding a appendix at the end of the book that lists the liberties that this edited/modified version has taken.

Once they do that -I will feel less upset about this botchery of history. I like the original version and I would argue that it helped me understand the issues of racism and appreciate the newer equitable system we live in today.

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Posted by Lisa
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm

The use of the n- word among African Americans is not offensive to me. I see it as a way to claim it and thereby control its effect. By using it, it has become impotent in the community. It is different historically and some for white people to use it. It has been a word used by whites to slander malign offend and demean.
It might be censorship, but for the sake of being kind, loving and respectful , it should not be up to white people to decide this. They are not the ones who have been victimized by this vulgarity.

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Posted by steve
a resident of Parkside
on Jan 13, 2011 at 8:34 am

Lisa, if aks me, yo be a lefty cracker.

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Posted by Member
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Jan 13, 2011 at 8:37 am

Huck Finn is classic literature that is part of history. We are all smart enough to understand that it comes from an era when different ideas existed and different words were used. You could tell this to a 1st grader, and they would immediately learn it and understand it.

The re-writing of literature is a re-writing of history. This is a characteristic of fascist totalitarian dictatorships. Look at history. That is who has done this (or tried) in the past.

The people who advocate re-writing things like Huck Finn to be politically correct would also re-write The Bible, history books, etc. Those people are very scary and very dangerous.

Rather than trying to re-write the past to try to eliminate things from the past (which can't be accomplished anyway), let's instead educate people so that they understand the context of why things were believed and said at points in history that we no longer believe any say.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Jan 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Looks like it's time we all reread Orwell's 1984.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

"It might be censorship, but for the sake of being kind, loving and respectful , it should not be up to white people to decide this. They are not the ones who have been victimized by this vulgarity."

It should not be up to anyone, black or white, to decide this. Leave the book alone; if people do not like the original book, they can simply not read it.

History can not be erased. It is a fact that back then the word n- was used, that cannot be erased. Just like we cannot erase or ignore or forget the holocaust, or how the native americans were victimized by europeans both in the US and Latin America, the list goes on. Blacks were not the only ones who suffered injustice in the past, yet blacks seem to be the only ones making a big deal of the past even though it no longer applies in the present. You do not erase or change history, you learn from it and make sure the same mistakes are not made.

How many books are we going to change so we can be politically correct? There are books that use the word retard, are we going to change that? How about the books written by Richard Wright? Are we going to change them too? It is nonsense!

Are we going to demand that the name "United Negro College Fund" be changed too?

I hope this new book, which will alter Mark Twain's original story, is not well received and is not purchased by anyone.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Ridgeview Commons

on Jun 4, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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