Hi Mr. Shannon,
I can only offer my own classroom experience in teaching Huckleberry Finn in the last fourteen years to high school juniors.
I take effective time with them to review Dr. R. Kent Rasmussen’s entries in his Critical Companion as to the N-word, slavery, African Americans, pertinent portions of Twain’s life showing his changing views on slavery, the history of the work’s reception by the public (they laugh at Concord Public Library’s reaction and cheer at Twain’s reaction to it), and his helping to pay for the Yale University Law School education of Walter T. McGuinn. In short, showing that Twain and his opus are not racist.
If you haven’t already done so, may I suggest you read his entries that are excellently comprehensive and enlightening.
I also offer that some musical rap artists use the word in their works, and apparently there is little outcry in contrast to that of Huckleberry Finn. I suggest that this is the price of free speech in our society.
Additionally, I put forth that the oral reading and discussion of the word is strictly in an academic context. Nothing more.
I ask that they only think and reflect on all I have shown them, particularly when they know that all this information is certainly not generally known in most, if any, high schools in our country. This is giving them the very much needed “big picture."
Finally I state that if anyone has any problem with the word for any or even no reason, just to tell me privately and without question it won’t be used.
As a result, I am fortunate to say that they are fine with reading and discussing Huckleberry Finn as it is, and when a student just says “N-word” when reading the dialogue, I do not correct him at all. In a classroom in which respect is paramount for each student, no one gives a taunting remark.
If any teacher can’t teach the work because of this word, then I would urge them to certainly use the NewSouth publication that changes the word to “slave."
Lastly, they are shocked and appalled that Huckleberry Finn has been banned in some school districts. In fact, I warn them that they at best attend local public Board of Education Meetings. It is likely that their own younger siblings and one day their own children will come home and be told they can’t read a book in school because a small number of parents complained. The Board easily avoids a lawsuit by simply changing the book selection, and then the majority of parents find out after it is too late.
You could go to the American Library Association’s website of banned books. The titles and reasons might shock you as well.
Seton Hall Preparatory School
West Orange, NJ
> On Mar 27, 2021, at 8:39 AM, Clay Shannon <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> I have vacillated a little over the years regarding what I thought about "the 'N' word" being used in Twain's magnum opus, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
> For the most part, I have been for remaining true to the original (rather than replacing it with the word "slave" or something else), and educating people about why the word was used by Twain in that book, and how common it was then, etc.
> In the same way, I don't like it when historical movies/tv shows have people using "the 'F' word" and other anachronisms when that word was rarely, if ever, used in the time and place being depicted. The "excuse" the apologists of such usage give is that if they were to be completely precise as to how people spoke back then, their vitriol would not be conveyed, but rather sound like something grandma might say when she dropped her thimble. I think for the most part it's preferable to either give the audience the benefit of the doubt or educate them, so that they understand the import and impact of what is being said, even if it sounds quaint or even comical to some today.
> However, something occurred yesterday that gave me pause regarding "the 'N' word" in Huck Finn:
> I have a very good friend who is "black." We have been discussing literature (via the mail) a litt/e lately. He recently read "Huck Finn" (he liked it a lot). After a little back and forth about it, this is what he had to say in yesterday's letter:
> ///As for Mark Twain, I agree. He DOES NOT promote slavery. I think people have more of an issue with the "n" word. I'm all for historical accuracy in literature and in fiction but the issue is, should it be read in schools?
> If I was the only black kid in a white classroom could you imagine the embarrassment I'd feel if we read the "n" word over and over and over again? Or worse, what they would call me at recess?///
> That was an epiphany for me. Perhaps this is a case where "the perfect is the enemy of the good," as there are probably two possibilities for Huck Finn being available in the classroom henceforth:
> 1) The "N" word is replaced with something else, maybe "slave" or "negro" (perhaps with an explanation in the foreword and/or verbally by the teacher at the start of the class reading it as to why "the 'N' word" was used in the original, and why it is being replaced)2) It's not available at all
> Perhaps replacing the problematic word may, after all, be more in the spirit of what Twain wrote. In this instance, although it would not be a completely precise version of the book (if "the 'N' word" were expurgated), it would be the kind thing to do, considering how it might affect some of the hearers/readers.
> - B. Clay Shannon