Huckleberry Finn is one of my favorite books. I love the characters, I love the adventure and I love the language. Mark Twain captures the dialect of the characters with perfect finesse, and the way the characters in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer talk has inspired countless lesser writers to inflict bad dialect upon the reading public.
Part of the dialect is the use of language as it existed at the time. And that includes the use of the word ‘nigger.’ That’s what’s gotten the book in trouble with school libraries (as searingly portrayed in a special two-parter Family Ties in which Jennifer is suspended for doing her book report on the novel!). Now a Twain scholar wants to get around the trouble and just omit ‘nigger’ (as well as ‘Injun’) from a new edition of the book.
Alan Gribben, who is behind the bastardization of the book (which is being published in a single volume along with a bastardized Tom Sawyer), spoke to Publisher’s Weekly:
“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.” Gribben became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.
The road to hell, as they say, is paved with dipshitty do-gooders. It’s part of a peculiar modern idiocy: the inability to understand that our modern mores and sensitivities have not always been in place. Historical figures and historical art works are the products of their period. Language changes, as does views on what is socially acceptable. To expect a man from even 100 years ago to live by modern racial and gender standards is actually crazy, because there’s no way that person could have understood how we would change as a society. In 100 years people will look back at us as absolute barbarians as well.
Teach the book as the book is. I’m sure most of the little snowflakes in a grade that is appropriate to Huckleberry Finn will have heard the word ‘nigger’ by that point in their lives. Make a discussion about the changing morals and standards of our society part of the way the book is taught. Realize that the tension between the way blacks were treated at the time and Huck’s relationship with Jim is a huge part of what makes the book special. Be aware that Huck Finn is actually an incredibly progressive character for his time. Be fucking smarter.