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January 7, 2011

The Recent Big Debate

I don't know if you've heard about all of this, but there has been an uproar among the literary world.

It has been brought to the attention of publishing companies that the book Huckleberry Finn might be changed in new editions. They are trying to 'make the book more approachable for readers' by replacing the n-word, that is used several times, with 'slave' and 'injun' with 'Native American' or 'Indian'.

I've been reading many articles and blogs about the topic and I wanted to share my input.

As a reader, My first instinct is to cry foul and beat up anyone trying to change it. How dare someone try to re-write the words of a classic, written by someone who has done so much for literature. Now that that outburst is over and my instincts for literature preservation is out I'll make some points.
  • The book was almost outlawed the year after it was published due to the wording. Why wasn't it then, at a time when all of the wounds from slavery were still fresh? Why wasn't it 50 years after? Why wasn't it changed in the 60's, when our nation struggled publicly with prejudice and social justice? Why wasn't it changed 100 years after, when we knew the wrongness of some of the language? Why now?
  • There is a lot to be learned through living in the words of written words. In text books you are given the facts of our history... in classics like Huck Finn you stand face to face with a whole different world, and forced to look into a history that is uncomfortable and undeniable. When you are forced to read words that make you uncomfortable you are able to see just how wrong they are. The feeling of shame and embarrassment can be learned from.
  • The book is a classic. Because some of the words are flagged as racially hostile when they were written in a racially hostile time you want to change it? You want to erase prejudice from our history? Really? You can't just pretend like slavery, prejudice and racism didn't exist... That like saying that it doesn't exist now........... And if you think that it doesn't, go watch all of the profiling that goes on in the news. And if you still don't think that it's an issue, you're in denial.
  • The book reflects the culture of the time. The words are there for a reason. Political correctness shouldn't apply when talking about books written during that period of time. During that time, those words were seen as politically correct.
  • By changing the words to the politically correct words of our time, are we denying that prejudice is an issue?

I understand that because of the wording it is an uncomfortable read for some people. I also understand that it's offensive. But how better to teach the next generations that words like 'injun' and the 'N-word' are offensive. Let them feel the shame of seeing those words used by characters they've become attached to.

Better there than on the playground.

How do you feel about this controversy?

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