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January 4, 2011

Huckleberry Finn gets self-censored, loses "n word"

A new version of Huckleberry Finn is being published -- one that omits the "n word." The NewSouth book, with an introduction by Twain scholar and Auburn University professor Alan Gribben, is designed to remove the offensive word that has kept the book out of some classrooms around the nation. It is replaced by the award "slave." (The new edition also replaces "injun.")

I'm not big on censorship, but this word is so weighted that it gets in the way of a true discussion of the merits. Any teacher who assigns the new version should be required to explain the self-censorship. That way, at least, the tough prose won't be completely white-washed.

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," Gribben told Publishers Weekly. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century." He and NewSouth believe the new edition, which includes "Tom Sawyer," will open up new audiences, especially grade school classrooms that had been put off by the politically incorrect word. "For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs," he told PW.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 2:20 PM | | Comments (11)


I lived in Auburn for 8 years and never knew there was a Twain scholar there. Go figure. I don't think I like the idea of this revised version.

Huck Finn was the great American novel - a novel which portrayed the America of that time and place. In that context, "the n word" is the only one that fits. The elimination of the word sets it in an America that never existed. Now somebody to put put some clothes on the Venus de Milo.

Can't agree w this-leave it in and let the teacher explain how it is a classic despite the n word-
Maybe they would say: " in Twain's day- and he reflects it- this was a common way of speaking in the setting of the novel- unfortunately.
Indians were being herded into camps in what can only be called "genocidal" actions.
O children? do you understand the word "genocidal"?
If we used the n word now it would be by blacks speaking to blacks in a rap piece or on the cell block- how ya doin my n!
I f you are white- you cannot use it.
And children- by the way-
Twain's "War Prayer" is not shown to you at all- the whole thing is STILL too radical for us NOW!

are they allowed to keep calling each other nigger on the street and in their homes/businesses?

This is SO stupid. Why does everything have to be politically correct? It takes away a lot from the book. I would only read the original version instead of this sanitized version.

No, Bruce-if an African- American (note correct usage here by me- Mr. Whitey) uses the n word on the street, this big "CORRECTNESS MONITOR" from the right wing- where else would he or she be from? comes up and hits the offender on the head with a huge mallet that is like a nerf ball.

By the way- if the "Capcha" has an apostrophe or squiggles around it or an umlaut- what do I do blog meisters?

I am organizing a national boycott of Newsouth Books. Revising and censoring literature is disgraceful and disgusting and should not be condoned in any way. The only way companies like Newsouth will get the message is if you hit them in the pocket book. So here is the link to my Facebook page for the boycott. Helps us stamp out revisionist history!

"Self censorship"?!?!? Are you saying that Mark Twain is censoring himself from the grave through Alan Gribben?

It's not the word that is the problem it is our attitude about it. If grade schoolers are not mature enough to understand the historical significance of the word then they shouldn't be reading these books. It's not like the books breed racism. Censorship, however, does breed ignorance.

Is this really about the offensiveness of the "N-word" or is this catering to southern whites' discomfort with confronting their history?

NewSouth Books is founded by a white woman from New York and a southern white man. So, two white people are going to speak for an entire nation, and say that the reason the book cannot be left alone is because it could be offensive to blacks. Um, since when can someone outside of a group decide what is offensive for people within the group? This is the worst form of racism.
And don't say African American all the damn time, it's offensive too. Dave Matthews is African American (South Africa) but I'm pretty sure he's not black.

Fortunately, there are enough copies around of the original Huck Finn that this milquetoast edition will not have much of a lasting impact. If it gets the book back into the schools again, that will be a good thing, and may lead some children to the un-bowdlerized version.

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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