“Huck Finn” Controversy Rages On

What's next? Book burning?

It’s not over for Huck Finn and the N-word.

SouthBooks’ recent announcement that it would publish an “updated” version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, minus its 219 mentions of “nigger,” continues to generate controversy.

No surprise there. What hits closer to the bone than race?

Many agreed with my column last week: It is ludicrous to delete references to the granddaddy of all racial epithets in Huckleberry Finn, a true classic, for fear of offending modern-day readers. Moreover, it is even more ludicrous to replace each reference with “slave.”

Others argue that editing the 1885 American novel would bring it more in line with 21st-century racial views, therefore making it more accessible – culturally as well as literally – to high school students. Particularly inner-city blacks already grappling with self-esteem issues.

I don’t buy it. No sir. No way.

Taken, as it must be, in historical context, the N-word in Huckleberry Finn was a reflection of the bigotry in Civil War-era America, not an endorsement of it. To change Twain’s language in order to reflect contemporary standards is as absurd as deleting all references to “the Jew” in 1925’s Mein Kampf.

Such terms, heinous as they are, teach us something about history. And I would argue that most high-school students, who have grown up hearing rappers endlessly reclaim the N-word, are mature enough to receive the lessons.

If the N-word is deemed radioactive by public-school boards, what is the next domino to fall? Is “pickaninny” OK? What about “jigaboo?” “Coon?” “Spade?” Who decides where the line is drawn? When we condone the “sanitizing” of great books, what is the next step — burning them?

Lest we forget, the choice of “slave” as a replacement for the N-word in Huckleberry Finn is no bell ringer, either.

First, not every African-American at that time was a slave. Second, only a white man – Twain scholar Alan Gribben of Auburn University, who “updated” the book – would argue that “slave” is not an equally pejorative term to blacks today.

Though the “updated” Huckleberry Finn isn’t scheduled to be published until next month, Gribben has been flooded with angry emails accusing him of desecrating a masterpiece, according to Associated Press. The first run will be only 7,500 copies.

Twain, an irascible cuss who died in 1910, must have been prescient when he wrote: “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

He could have just said, “Huck you.”