Huck Finn & the “N-word”
A few months ago, I wrote a tirade about the Alabama publisher who took The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and “sanitized” it because school teachers confessed they felt uncomfortable teaching it in their classes due to the use of the “n-word.”
I ranted and raved about how wrong it is to alter books and how it sets a dangerous precedent.
I never posted it.
I realize that not everyone will agree with me, but I think much (but certainly not all) of the power in Huckleberry Finn is in Twain’s brilliant use of language and how the plot morphs from a story of one, young, rather selfish boy on a journey to a story about a boy and a man, together, against the world.
There is an incredible irony that engaged readers will pick up on that Jim, the slave, referred to as a “nigger” 219 times during the course of the novel, is the most moral, loving, genuine, forgiving, character in the entire book. He is probably one of the greatest father-figures in American Literature. And, if read correctly Huckleberry Finn stands as one of the strongest condemnations of racism in American literature as Huck recognizes Jim’s humanity and says he would rather go to hell than send Jim back into slavery.
I had written much more – about how it is important to discuss the power of the “n-word,” its origins, and its different contexts in different communities; how it is necessary to challenge students about the casual use of the “n-word,” to get them to consider if it is ever okay to use this word and if so, who can say it, when and under what circumstances.
I caught this bit on Huckleberry Finn and the N-word debate on 60 Minutes and about 7 minutes in, I just knew that this report was saying it better than I ever could. If you ever read Twain’s novel or have kids who read it or might read it, it is worth the next 12 minutes of your time. And if you are an educator, I recommend you see it – first, to think about your methods. Because this is a book where one has to be mindful. But this piece of journalism would be great to show in one’s class to get a real discussion on race relations going.
If you were an English teacher, would you use the version with the original text? Or would you choose the new version where the “n-word” is replaced by the word “slave”? Or would you avoid the discussion on race altogether?