New Edition of 'Huck Finn' Censors the 'N Word'

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A censored version of Mark Twain's 1884 masterpiece the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be published next month from NewSouth Books. The new version will scrub out the "n word," which appears in the novel 219 times, according to Publishers Weekly. The decision is facing a groundswell of scrutiny in literary circles for "whitewashing" a classic work of American literature. The word "slave" will be substituted in the offending word's place throughout the book. "This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Twain scholar Alan Gribben, defending the new edition. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century." Here's how bloggers are reacting around the Web:

  • It's a Terrible Decision, writes K.C. Morgan at VIP Breakdown. "The fact is, Mark Twain didn't live in today's frighteningly over-the-top, PC world. Maybe we shouldn't try to erase all reminders that his era ever existed. The world of Huck Finn serves as a living reminder of where we've been. Sometimes, it's ugly."

It's not about avoiding an awkward classroom moment, or they would have removed the word "ejaculate" from Victorian novels, where everybody is always ejaculating about everything. It would be like renaming 1984 2084, "because the current title does not reflect how pleasant life was under the Reagan administration." This is like changing War and Peace to Peace, because war is unpleasant to remember, or removing World War I from All Quiet on the Western Front.

  • This Won't Help Strengthen Race Relations  "One cannot speak of evolution when we are unable or unwilling to put a book into context and explain racial issues to our children or clarify how words have evolved," writes Alina Popescu at Everything PR. "For me the issue comes down to an unnecessary first that will soon be expanded to other books, articles etc."
  • They Made the Right Choice, counters Rob Anderson at
The "n" word today is not the same thing as it was 100 years ago. And while we shouldn't get in the habit of editing books as the meaning of words change over time (that's what footnotes are for, after all!), sometimes it's okay--especially when the meaning of a word, like the "n word," has changed so significantly. Yes, the "n word" was impolite and rude when Twain included it in the book--219 times, to be exact --but it didn't carry the same historical, cultural, or political baggage that it does now. If any word deserves to be nixed, the "n word" would be it.
  • More Children Will Read It Now  "If this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten)," writes Keith Staskiewicz at Entertainment Weekly, "then maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge." She also asks if it is "really any more catastrophic than a TBS-friendly re-edit of 'The Godfather.'" In both cases, she says, "the original product is changed for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are not mature enough to handle it, but as long as it doesn't affect the original, is there a problem?"
  • It's Censorship I Can Stomach, writes Dave Rosenthal at The Baltimore Sun: "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. but 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."

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