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Lawrence Howe <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 4 Jan 2011 16:24:35 -0800
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I'm going out on a limb here, but I don't think the issue is the students.  Rather, I think it's some parents, some administrators, and some teachers.  I've had teachers in my MA courses who report that their principal has instructed the faculty to substitute the word "slave" for the word "nigger." This wasn't open to discussion, just a fiat.  The implication was that he didn't want any trouble.  

I've also conducted workshops for h.s. teachers, black and white, some of whom are parents.  The concern of the African-Americans in those groups was not their ability to teach the text as written, but rather that some others lacked the preparation to handle the language with the wisdom and sensitivity it required.  Their larger concern was that, as parents, they doubted the preparation of their children's teachers to work with the text in a meaningful way.  

These are legitimate concerns and lead to the kind of editions that we're discussing here.  I'm concerned that we're selling 16-18 year-olds short.  I think they've got a lot more ability and maturity than we sometimes give them credit for.  It takes some thoughtful preparation and courage, but the results are worth it. 

On a slightly different track, I was disheartened when my son's 11th-grade English teacher admitted to me that she didn't assign the last 5th of the novel, supplementing the assigned reading with synopses of the Phelps' farm sequence.  I argued that this was an enormous mistake, but she countered that there was not enough time for them to read it all.  The handful of excerpts from _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ were required by the curriculum.  So while we're concerned with the integrity of an unexpurgated text of _HF_, we might also question the merits of teaching samples from long narratives and the problems that this kind of selected exposure raises. 


--- On Tue, 1/4/11, Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

From: Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: a new Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 5:53 PM

Well then, by 11th grade I'd think most students would be mature enough to =

deal with the language and the historical context.

At the risk of wading into deep water without my water-wings, I think I 
understand younger students, black or white, who must feel uneasy about the =

language. But I must confess that when I hear of high school students, black=
or white, who express pain over the use of the word in this novel I am 
puzzled. Given the wide use of the term among blacks (casually, as a sign of=
affection, as well as insult), it's frequent use (in variant forms) in rap =

lyrics and movies, its use in modern fiction, and even in comedy routines, I=
don't understand why seeing it used in historical context would be 
upsetting. In fact, watching Twain using it as live ammo on his deadly 
assault against racism would seem to me an enjoyable experience. Yes, I do =

understand why the word coming from white lips carries a power it lacks 
otherwise, but Twain's use of it strips it of that power, or so it seems to =

That said, I'll wade back to the shallows now.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730
Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at

----- Original Message ----- 
From: =22Jocelyn Chadwick=22 <jocelynchadwick=40VERIZON.NET>
Sent: Tuesday, January 04, 2011 4:46 PM
Subject: Re: a new Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

> Kevin, you hit on a significant point--the teaching of the novel, the =3D=

> time, the people.  In the United States,  students most usually =3D
> encounter =22Huck=22  at the 11th grade-- the American literary survey. =
> Students will have experienced several of Twain's other pieces at =3D
> earlier grades. =22A True Story,=22 =22Huck,=22 Uncle Tom's Cabin,=22 and =
now =3D
> works by Frances Harper and Pauline Hopkins are included, along with =3D
> essays, journals, etc. I have interacted with this novel and students of =
> all ethnicities for some time now, and I have yet to encounter students =
> who resolutely reject the reading of the work, IF they feel one has =3D
> prepared to teach/share/experience it with  them and IF they feel safe =3D=

> in the classroom. Much of the success for the teaching of any piece of =3D=

> American literature, whether  in high school or undergraduate, depends =3D=

> on the teacher. I feel the goal of teaching any piece of challenging =3D
> literature is to encourage students to experience the work and determine =
> for themselves whether that experience enlightened them in some  way or =
> whether the experience left them flat and unaffected.=3D20
> By teaching  American works such as =22Huck,=22  modern students can begin=
> to understand that at one time language really did make a difference; =3D=

> that words really do carry weight and consequences.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730
Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at

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