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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 6 Jan 2011 11:56:58 EST
text/plain (123 lines)
Well, I hope this action of Mr. Gribben's in no way distracts from the two  
editions I have planned of Huckleberry Finn coming out in the spring. One 
is a  legal/military redacted version where the offensive words are blacked 
out. The  other is a MAD LIBS version where the offensive words are omitted 
and replaced  with a 15 character space allowing the reader to supply an 
appropriate word  of his or her choice.
Alan C. Reese
In a message dated 1/6/2011 11:52:02 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
[log in to unmask] writes:
I am not  a Mark Twain scholar, and so probably have no voice in  this
discussion.  Heck, I didn't even know when I was young that one  COULD be a
Mark Twain scholar, sadly. But I have been reading almost  everything I 
find about or by Mark Twain since I was perhaps seven or  eight years old,
which makes it about 50 years now.  I wouldn't  pretend to have the
credentials of people who deign to change an author's  words.  But I'd like
to make two points:

1. "Slave" in no way  equals "Nigger".  Others here have made that point, 
it has to be  made repeatedly, in my opinion.  Slave is a station in life,  
condition, a legal (usually) status.  It can be forced on a person,  it can
be entered at birth, it can sometimes be ended, either through  escape or
manumission.  My description here is clinical, but in fact I  find the idea
of slavery abhorrent.  "Nigger" is a whole different  thing.  In origin, it
is simply a reference to skin color, but its  connotations have developed 
beyond its origins.  In Twain's time  (the meaning that is actually relevant
when discussing HF), as far as I  know, it was always used as a racist
pejorative, even when, as with Huck,  that usage is unconscious or
unintended.  Its meaning is to degrade  another human being simply for the
color of his skin.  The color of  one's skin is not, by and large,
changeable.  It is a condition of  being that one is born with and that one
lives with until death.  One  cannot escape it.  And, if other people hate
you for it, you cannot  escape their hatred, except by somehow removing the
hatred from them.   And THAT, to me, is the reason it is a bad idea to 
that word to  another word that implies something very different.  Not all
blacks  were slaves in antebellum times, but all blacks, to a racist like 
Finn,  were "niggers".  And a drunken sot like Finn could use that word  to
make himself feel superior to the most kind, gentle, educated,  and
cultivated black man in the country.  Only the word "nigger"  conveys that
shattering, despicable truth about racism.  I won't  pretend to know what
Clemens had in his mind when he wrote HF, but I know  what I have in my mind
when I read it, and the word "slave" does not  work.  Huck's moment of
epiphany doesn't work if Jim is only a  "slave".  Huck would not decide to 
to hell for a "slave"; he would  be afraid of going to jail.  But to break
the psychic bonds of racism,  Huck has to realize that he would go to HELL
for a "nigger"; it's the  realization that the word "nigger" is wrong when
applied to a PERSON that  brings Huck to his moment of truth.

Simply put, as much meaning as the  word "slave" carries with it, it does 
carry anywhere near the same  depth of meaning as the word "nigger".  It's a
bad idea, in my  opinion, to make that change and then to pretend that 
children are  reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn".  They're  not.

2.  If the issue is that teachers do not know how to teach  the real HF, 
why do they not either find out HOW to teach it from the  many, many 
who do, or else stop teaching it?  If it is  thought that high school kids
are not ready for the REAL issues the book  brings up, then why not hold off
on teaching it until a later point in the  education process?  Why feed
pablumized literature to children?   Why not simply avoid the whole issue 
teach other works that don't  provide the same challenges?

Seriously, I think that any child who has  reached high school is old enough
to confront and successfully deal with  the issues found in HF.  There is no
child in America who has not  heard the word "nigger" hundreds of times by
that point, except the  absolute most sheltered.  There are children who 
been taught that  it a bad word (as I was very young), and there are 
who have not  been taught that.  There are children, black and white, who 
it as  an affectionate term for their friends.  It will not hurt any child  
learn the history of that word.  It will not surprise any child,  because
children in America are more aware of, and more sensitive to, the  racist
tendencies of this nation than their parents realize.  In my  opinion, it
makes more sense to talk openly about those tendencies EARLY,  rather than
late, before they have become hardened aspects of the  personality and the
culture.  The first time I can remember ever  seeing a black person was when
I was about three.  He was a man  sitting in the back seat of a Department 
Public Works truck in front of  my house.  I sat on a hydrant and looked at
him and then ran into the  house and shouted to my mother, "Ma!  There's a
nigger in that  truck!"  How I knew that word I will never know.  But my
mother's  reaction I will never forget.  She told me in no uncertain terms
never  to use that word, that it would hurt people when I used it, and it
hurt her  to hear me say it.  She said that, as Italian-Americans, we would
also  hear words that hurt us.  She told me (this was about 1956) that  the
proper way to refer to that man was as a colored man.  I then went  back out
to look at the man as he worked with his colleagues.  I sat  back on the
hydrant, and got my very first bee sting on my bottom for my  pains.  Even
then, it seems, I was an ass, and that bee knew  it.

I think if a three-year-old can get a lesson from his mother, a  lady who
never went to high school, about racism and how it hurts people -  and 
that lesson - any high school kid can do the same, especially  when guided 
an educated, sensitive teacher.

One final point, what  does it mean that this edition of the work is being
published by an outfit  called "NewSouth"?  I honestly don't know, but I do
know that it jars  me every time I hear or read that.


Who wishes  he were a Mark Twain scholar, and appreciates the opportunity
through this  list to commune with those who  are.