“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
This past week, a publishing house called New South announced a new, combined edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from which its editor had changed every appearance of the word “nigger” to “slave.” The editor is a so-called Twain scholar (I have some issues with calling anyone who supports such a move a “scholar”) who feels it’s a good option when encountering “a different kind of audience than a professor usually encounters; what we always called ‘the general reader.'”
That Publishers Weekly article continues:
The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”
Now, my aunt gave me Huckleberry Finn when I was a kid. I think it’s important to note I couldn’t read it for the first several years I owned it. Literally: couldn’t. Here’s the first paragraph of Huckleberry Finn:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly — Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is — and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.
Not too difficult, but Huckleberry Finn speaks in dialect, and dialect is tough to read. At least, it was when you’re a kid who’s mostly been reading The Hardy Boys up until then. Not that you’ve ever been that kid, but I certainly was.
But that ain’t no matter right now. The matter right now is the censoring of a great book by a great author. And yes, that’s what I’d call it, so you can figure out where I stand on the subject.
It’s not a controversial stance. Lots of people have already written lots of pieces opining what a boneheaded move it is. And it’s totally boneheaded, for the record.
Haven’t read anyone discuss why it’s happening, though, or seen any other professors talk about it. Maybe I just haven’t read enough. Not sure, but I thought, being a sometimes professor myself, and having taught race and fiction myself, discussing it was worthwhile.