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Huckleberry Finn Without the “N-Word”

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A new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn will lose those pesky offensive words that have made many seethe in fury at their insensitivity.

The rather offensive word that I hear in many rap songs, “nigger,” will be replaced by the seemingly inoffensive word “slave.” How the word “slave” is any less offensive is hard to understand, especially in the context of this book. The act of selling and buying humans as property is surely more inhumane than the act of discriminating based on colour, and one certainly does precede the other in the context of America.

Also, “Injun” shall be replaced by “Indian.”

We live in an age of sensitivity, where we tread carefully lest we disturb the ghosts of yesterday. There are burdens that many words carry, especially those that have been used and misused by cultures through history. We might wish these words to die out, but surely the more attention we pay to them, the longer they will survive.

Books are a window into our past, and by carefully pruning their pages, we are removing all the hues and shades that have existed. We are forcing ourselves into a world where we forget historical perspectives of social structures and institutions, imposing instead our own blinkered interpretations.

We do love to paint the world a color that we like. And I guess there is nothing that will stop us from doing so. We have always done so.

So while we are at it, why don’t we go one step further and delete every piece of literature which has ever had any condescending view of any national culture or economic tradition? And then we can sit back and live in a world where no one gets offended, and all transgressions of the past are forgotten in whitewashed guilt-ridden depictions.

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About P Chandra

  • Clavos

    It is indeed, Doc.


  • It also used to be (and probably still is) commonplace to publish Bibles with all the rude bits taken out.

  • Of course, this type of bowdlerization predates “contemporary education.” Its namesake Thomas Bowdler produced a Family Shakespeare in the early 19th century (which, among other things, omitted the suggestion that Ophelia in Hamlet was a suicide). There will always be those trying to protect us from too-real literature . . .

  • Clavos

    Mr. Chandra, you make an important point.

    Any student of American literature knows that Twain’s use of “nigger” and “injun” was deliberate; that his intent in writing Huckleberry Finn was to bring the rampant racism of his day to the attention of the public and to subject that racism to ridicule and criticism. The book is a diatribe against racism and Twain’s use of the offensive words was in service to that noble purpose.

    Unfortunately, the sorry state of contemporary American education often results in the kind of ignorance that would publish an expurgated edition of what is arguably the greatest work of fiction ever written in America.