Kudos to the writer of the January 11 editorial titled “Sivilizin’ Huck.”
Written on the occasion of a forthcoming edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the the word “nigger” with the word “slave,” the editorial does an excellent job of illustrating the limited understanding of people who can read words, but not books.
One of the greatest novels ever written by an American, Huckleberry Finn offers a scathing indictment of American hypocrisy, empty sentimentality, and racism. The fact that a publisher is issuing a bowdlerized edition of it in 2011 serves to show that these national faults still dominate U.S. culture.
Words are not interchangeable units of sound. Words have connotations of meaning. Novelists choose their words very carefully. Changing a writer’s words is to sabotage the writer’s purpose and to alter the effect of the whole. A more honest treatment of Twain’s satire by those whom it offends would be to burn it, like the firemen in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
The study of literature is an intellectual process that contributes to the development of adult thinking. An educational system that truly intends to turn out thinking graduates has no business rewriting the classics to get rid of the uncomfortable bits.