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Mon, 11 Apr 2011 19:24:49 -0400
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_Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn_. Edited by Alan
Gribben. NewSouth Books, 2011. Pp. 521. Softcover. $24.95. ISBN-13
978-1-58838-267-2 and ISBN-13 978-1-60306-066-0 (ebook).

_Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_. Edited by Stephen Railton. Broadview
Press, 2011. Pp. 448. Softcover. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-55481-004-8.

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell.

Copyright (c) 2011 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Early in his career, a young cocksure Sam Clemens lit out for the
territories, literally and figuratively, but soon returned--wised up,
seasoned, and sly--as Mark Twain. Armed to the teeth with a lethal arsenal
of irony and satire, he married, and moved to the most exclusive
neighborhood in one of the most civilized cities in America, and within a
few years began the decade-long task of crafting a book that subverted the
very culture he'd fled in his former life. He anchored his perspective in
the sorrowful depths and simple joys of his own childhood, borrowed the
dialects of social outcasts to give authentic voices to the characters he
modeled after people he'd known, spun his narrative in a shimmering warp and
weave of metaphors, animated it with a dazzling array of violent events and
astonishing situations, and presented the result--a series of horrific
adventures--disguised with just enough stereotypical behaviors and
illustrations, and dosed with a thick enough coating of humor to make it
acceptable to most readers. It was a kind of hoax on his readership, a
literary method Twain knew quite well, and with the exception of a few
prudish critics like Louisa May Alcott, he almost got away with it.

Of the 112,000 words in _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_, 219 are the word
"nigger." During Mark Twain's lifetime and for several decades after, this
word did not cause a problem although the book was often banned for other
reasons. Although crude language was sometimes cited as a reason for
banning, the word "nigger" was never singled out. Today the word is often
seized upon by students, teachers, school-boards, and parents as evidence of
Twain's racist intent, a stance that requires the accuser to overlook
Twain's sometimes heavy-handed ironic uses of the word. Certainly racism is
exhibited by Huck, Tom, and others, including Jim himself, but not Twain.
Twain's characters are not being ironic when they use the word, but Twain is
being ironic when he has them say it. But for some readers, most of whom
understand how Twain intended the word to advance his satire in an authentic
way, the mere presence of the word is still hurtful.

The word "nigger" is more powerful now than in Twain's day, which has misled
some to think Twain deliberately used it to provoke or shock his readers.
For an excellent history of the evolution of this word, see Randall
Kennedy's _Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word_ (2003), a
source mentioned by editor Alan Gribben, in his introduction to the NewSouth
edition of _ Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn _.
Twain himself used "nigger" casually in his personal correspondence more
than twenty years after the publication of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_.
He had used it in _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ (1875), and in _The Gilded
Age_ a few years earlier. It would have been strange if Twain had left the
word out of his writings altogether. Twain intended his words to increase
the caliber and velocity of his satire as he kept American culture in his
crosshairs. Yet even with this understanding, a problem remains--"nigger"
has a power now far beyond anything contemplated by Mark Twain, and this
increasingly prevents _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ from being taught in
schools, putting it in danger of becoming the kind of literary classic that
Twain once described--a book that everyone knows but nobody reads.

As he describes in his introduction, Alan Gribben was repeatedly confronted
with this painful situation during his travels when he participated in a
state-wide reading project in Alabama (The Big Read). With the hope of
finding a way to get Twain's masterpiece into the hands of students who
would otherwise not be allowed to study it, Gribben changed the word
"nigger" to "slave." He also changed "Injun Joe" to "Indian Joe" and
"half-breed" to "half-blood." These may not be perfect substitutes, but it
is a challenge to think of better ones. None of these substitutes have more
power now than the word "nigger" did in Twain's own day, and that alone
recommends them. Gribben is not the first scholar to equate "nigger" with
"slave."  David L. Smith's essay "Huck, Jim, and American Racial Discourse"
collected in R. Kent Rasmussen's _Mark Twain: Critical Insights_ (2010)
proposes that these two words can be equated (p. 216), and it seems to be
the accepted substitution by teachers who read the book aloud in class.
Gribben acknowledges that textual purists will object to any "tampering"
with Twain's text, and explains that this edition is not intended for
scholars or mature readers who want to read the original text (p. 15), and
he makes a point of guiding students to the major editions that retain the
word (p. 16). He also agrees with those who defend Twain's use of the word
and lists them by name, but he also quotes Langston Hughes' eloquent words
on the pain the word inflicts when heard at all (p. 11). By the very act of
making the substitution and then explaining it at length in his
introduction, Gribben artfully draws more attention to the word "nigger" as
a topic for class discussions or as a "teachable moment" than it would be
otherwise. Gribben's NewSouth edition also omits all 174 of E. W. Kemble's
original (and often stereotypical) illustrations.

The response to Gribben's edition in the mass media has run the gamut from
frowns of disapproval to hysterical personal attacks. Almost all of these
reactions preceded the actual publication of the book, with the result that
few of these commentators likely had the opportunity to read Gribben's
introduction. One critic (in a comment posted at said
that this edited edition will spawn "ignorant, na´ve people with an
inaccurate sense of ... history and literature" as if the alternative would
be a better outcome--that the book be excluded from more and more curricula.
Some critics were apparently unaware that Twain frequently altered and even
suppressed his own texts to suit his readers, his wife, his friends, or his
pocketbook. Without the benefit of reading Gribben's introduction, none of
these commentaries have included more than a whisper about Gribben's
decision to bundle _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ with _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_ in the NewSouth edition, his inclusion of the raftsmen
episode, his substitutions for "Injun" and "half-breed," his deletion of the
original illustrations, or his thoughtful commentary on the three things in
_Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ that attract the most critical attention
(Jim's speech and docility, the evasion chapters, and Jim's relationship to
Huck and Tom).

David Bradley, a college professor interviewed in a recent edition of "60
Minutes" on CBS said that in _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ the "teachable
moment is when that word hits the table" as if the book had nothing to teach
unless the text being taught included the word "nigger."  However, in his
afterword, Gribben provides two pages of "satirical targets," all of them
teachable moments (child abuse, alcoholism, slavery, religion, blood-feuds,
Walter Scott, human gullibility, illiteracy, and social attitudes toward a
host of topics).

In his introduction Gribben explains that he has paired _The Adventures of
Tom Sawyer_ and _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ in one volume because Twain
himself viewed them as paired in this way. He explains how the books were
originally advertised and sold, and how they are so closely related in time,
place, plot, structure, themes, and characters. To fully understand Huck, a
reader must first experience the horrors of his existence as depicted in
_The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_, a thesis that is convincingly presented by
Cynthia Griffin Wolff in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a Nightmare Vision
of American Boyhood" (reprinted in Rasmussen, ed., _Mark Twain: Critical
Insights_, 2010).

Next, Gribben recounts his candid conversations with educators and parents
and others, and how this led him to seek a way to get Huck and Jim into
classrooms where they were no longer welcome. He fully explains how he
decided to make the three word substitutions already mentioned. Although
this book is not for scholars or textual purists, those who teach the book
may wish to begin with this particular section of the introduction.

When Gribben confronts the three most common critical objections to
_Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_, scholars will want to take note. He
suggests several examples of "dungeon literature" that Twain was burlesquing
in the infamous "evasion chapters." The victims of Twain's burlesque, more
familiar to his nineteenth century readership than to today's readers,
include Alexandre Dumas, William H. Ainsworth, Thomas Carlyle, Joseph X. B.
Saintine, Casanova, Baron Friedrich von der Trenck, and Benvenuto Cellini,
which may help explain why many of today's scholars find the evasion
chapters a puzzle if these authors are not part of their reading repertoire.

Gribben concludes with a warning that interpreting _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_ as a simple narrative of a boy coming to recognize the
humanity of a slave, while correct as far as it goes, is an incomplete
reading that overlooks the truly subversive nature of Huck's story. Prodded
by events that take place in the evasion chapters, Huck discovers that "it
is conformist and cowardly of us to take for granted that prevailing laws
and customs, no matter how solidly established, are too sacred to be
skeptically examined and intellectually tested by each of us as individuals"
(pp. 27-8). Students who read _Huckleberry Finn_ must ask themselves if they
too are yielding to social pressures to conform, or engaging in poor
behavior simply because it is in vogue.

Steve Railton takes a different approach to _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_
in the Broadview Press edition. His text follows that of the first edition
of 1885, with twenty typographical errors silently corrected. He includes an
excerpt from the raftsmen episode in his appendix, and includes all of
Kemble's original illustrations. In Appendix C he also includes the four
illustrations Kemble added to the 1899 edition of _Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn_. His edition does not include _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_, but
includes a brief excerpt from it. His introduction covers much of the same
ground as Gribben's--freedom and slavery, the targets of Twain's satire,
Twain's sources, and Twain's use of the word "nigger." Railton points out
that two kinds of freedom are being sought in this story; while Huck is busy
freeing Jim from slavery, Jim frees Huck of his "mental slavery of society"
(p. 18). He discusses at length the relationship between Huck and Jim, how
Jim's humanity is displayed, and how the focus of Twain's satire is not
slavery, but racism. Railton also explains how Twain's stereotypical
treatment of Jim sometimes gets in the way of the satire (p. 27). He
discusses two common explanations for the evasion chapters (pp. 28-9), the
first being the notion that they are a satirical commentary on the
convict-lease programs of the 1880s, and the second being the popular
[Uncle] "Tom shows" of that day. There is scant evidence to support the
former theory, and only slight evidence to support the latter. Railton's
best observation is saved for last--that people who defend _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_ and those who protest it, are seldom willing to listen and
learn from each other (p. 38), with the result that the question of racism
in the book is too often presented as a Yes-or-No question, which leads
people to argue _over_ Twain's masterpiece instead of looking _into_ it
together. Like Gribben, he is passionate in his conviction that _Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn_ belongs in the classroom. His list of sources (pp.
445-8) is similar to Gribben's with both printed and digital sources cited,
and both provide a student with ample explorative reading.

What distinguishes Railton's edition are the carefully chosen extracts from
a wide variety of background materials that he has appended to his text.
Each extract is introduced by an informative note and well-chosen
illustrations, which will inspire students to seek out these original
sources, which include related texts by Twain, among them "A True Story,"
extracts from _Life on the Mississippi_, _Tom Sawyer Abroad_, and
_Autobiography_. Railton's edition also includes texts that reflect
contemporary attitudes toward slavery and race, including a newspaper
editorial from _The Chicago Tribune_ that claimed that since the right to
vote had been granted to former slaves (in 1870), they "have nothing more to
ask" (p. 386); a racist Brudder Bones minstrel sketch; some examples of
minstrel sheet music; an example of a "Tom show"; and extracts from Thomas
Nelson Page (_Mars Chan_) and George W. Cable (_The Freedman's Case of
Inequity_). Next follows sections about Kemble's illustrations and an
informative section on the marketing of the first edition in 1885. Nine
contemporary reviews of the book, five contemporary articles (including
Twain's response) on the banning of his book by the Concord Free Library,
and seven reviews of Twain's stage performances from _Huckleberry Finn_
during the Twain-Cable tour of 1884-5 are also included. The final section
contains six extracts from Twain's other writings that reflect his views on
"freedom versus fate"--the dilemma Twain explored in _What is Man?_

It is unfortunate that Gribben's edition has been bashed in the media as if
the only thing he did was thoughtlessly tinker with Twain's text, and it is
equally regrettable that Railton's edition (with that vile word intact, as
well as Kemble's sometimes offensive illustrations) has attracted little
notice. Stephen Railton ended his introduction with the observation that the
journey that began when Huck and Jim departed from Jackson's Island is not
yet over. Both Gribben's and Railton's editions are thoughtfully designed
for their intended purposes and have much to commend them to students.
Perhaps these students will be reading different editions in different
classrooms, but they are journeying down the same river to the same
destination. Let nothing delay their arrival.