Thursday, January 6, 2011

Censorship and Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain's beloved classic Huckleberry Finn has often been the topic of censorship discussions due to the many terms of racial slang. I have written about it before and I will write about it again because this is a current news topic that must be addressed.

The n-word that is seen in Huckleberry Finn over 200 times and recently made headline news due to a publisher’s decision to edit the word out of the book and replaced with the word “slave.” Jenice Armstrong, author of the article, “Why whitewash n-word from Huck Finn?” states, “Those two words are not synonyms. Nope, not even close. They each mean something entirely different.”

If we were going to go on a parade of censorship and remove all of the words that could offend a person we would have nothing of literature or art left. There is really no way to make everyone happy, I understand this, even amongst friends it is easy to butt heads from a difference in opinion. But this is an extreme case where people are taking measures to attempt to not offend anyone, but also making the mistake of brushing away something that could be seen as a historic look of how people once treated one another. Just look at what is going on here, a book publisher is removing the offensive word from a classic to appease those who find it offensive and there is an outcry from the scholarly sort saying no, you can't do this. But this, unfortunately, is different from saying “that word in that book written years and years ago offends me.” The book stays true to the social norms of that time period and is reflective of history passed.

The word is terrible. But it's a linchpin of this book. What makes so radical is the fact that in a time when the horror of slavery was still fresh and the specter of inequality hung over the whole country, Mark Twain was still able to use satire to show how wrong it was. -Alexandra Petri, author of "Why a new edition of Huckleberry Finn is wrong to remove the N-word"

If we remove historical content, words and writing that children and adults might have the opportunity to learn from, what will we be left with? What will be next? Removing all books written about the Holocaust? Maybe anything pertaining to teenage suicide or eating disorders. Oh, wait, people are fighting to have those removed as well.

But what these censorship-driven people do not seem to grasp is that this is reality and this is life. Bad things happen, people have been looked down upon, and we have less than stellar previous actions that the people of the world acted out long before we were born. But how can we learn from these mistakes and learn to look past them, to recognize when we our selves are falling into the same rut, if we do not know what historical mistakes we are trying to avoid? 

To read more views of this topic please check out the following news articles that are all beautifully written (and some quoted here)
'Huck Finn' sanitized for your protection
Should "Huckleberry Finn" be censored?

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