If it’s Tuesday (or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, etc., etc.), it’s Political Correctness Run Amok Day in America’s education establishment.
The latest salvo? A publishing house will release p.c.-policed versions of both The Adventures of Huck Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the words “nigger” and “Injun” deleted.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”
Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”
…Including the table of contents, the slur appears 219 times in Finn.
The tiresome war on Mark Twain’s novels is older than Al Sharpton’s hair grease. I’m reprinting a piece I wrote about the whitewashers’ attempt to expunge the word “nigger” from Huck Finn in 2001. America’s schoolchildren have been robbed by ignorant censors who are too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them and feckless educators too lazy to teach them.
But, hey, at least they’ll have their laptops!
August 24, 2001
Mark Twain once observed that “We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.” That’s precisely why the muddle-headed movement to ban Twain and his greatest work, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” persists like gangrene.
The Left’s assault on Twain took a literal turn recently in New Jersey. Last month, the mayor of Atlantic City tore down a fiberglass statue of the 19th-century author that had been erected at the intersection of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and Missouri Avenue. The statue was part of new tourist attraction campaign using replicas of state landmarks and celebrities to decorate each block of the famed Boardwalk. In May, vandals smashed and pummeled Twain’s face beyond recognition.
“There were some concerns raised about the appropriateness of Mark Twain,” Atlantic City Mayor James Whelan explained after deep-sixing the battered statue. “Rather than offend anybody, we decided to put him back in storage.” Feelings, nothing more than feelings, did Twain in.
Twain’s knee-jerk Jersey critics said the Missouri-born icon dishonored the heritage of Chicken Bone Beach, a section of the Jersey shore where blacks were segregated until the 1950s. “It’s truly disgraceful that a writer who used the n-word to describe African Americans has taken center stage at Chicken Bone Beach,” William Marsh, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Atlantic City Press.
Ah, yes. The “n-word.” Twain used it in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” 215 times, we are ceaselessly reminded by censors who are too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them. Ignore the book-burning mob chanting “racism.” This novel remains one of the most brilliant and moving anti-slavery tracts ever written.
For the increasing number of Americans who have not read the book, here’s a brief summary: The novel follows the geographic and moral journey of young Huck Finn, who navigates the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave, Jim. As their friendship deepens through a series of shared misadventures, Huck’s eyes are opened to the evils of slavery and racism. The novel climaxes when the boy defies his culture’s rampant bigotry and resolves to rescue Jim from his captors.
Two gifted black writers, Booker T. Washington and Ralph Ellison, understood Twain’s medium and message. Washington wrote that Twain “succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for Jim.” In creating Jim’s character, the moral center of the book, Washington asserted that Twain had “exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the negro people.” Ellison noted similarly that “Huckleberry Finn knew, as did Mark Twain, that Jim was not only a slave but a human being (and) a symbol of humanity … and in freeing Jim, Huck makes a bid to free himself of the conventionalized evil taken for civilization by the town.”
Twain opposed racial inequality in many of his works of fiction and non-fiction, and came to reject slavery after moving East, marrying into an abolitionist family, and meeting Frederick Douglass. Twain used the vernacular of the antebellum South in “Huck Finn” not to denigrate black people, but to keep it real. Whitewashing the word “nigger” out of the book’s dialogue would have played into the hands of those who prefer to sanitize history than confront it.
“You can’t just say he was writing how people talk, and overlook what he wrote,” the NAACP’s William Marsh said last week as he cheered the removal of Twain’s statue overlooking Chicken Bone Beach. Yet, that’s exactly what the anti-Twain marauders have done. Could Twain ever have imagined such a farcical fate — banned on bookshelves and now the Boardwalk by literary Neanderthals?
Marsh and his ilk could do the world much more good by heeding Twain’s timeless advice: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Author Harry Stein recounts how his high school-age son stood up to the racial grievance-mongers:
As a high school sophomore, he had an English teacher, a white liberal, who began the unit on Huckleberry Finn by announcing that, though he was obliged to teach it, he wasn’t happy about it. It was a “racist” book, he said, the word “n*gger” appearing with appalling frequency. There has, of course, been a lot of this lately. Twain’s masterpiece, a work not only famously cited by Ernest Hemingway as the progenitor of “all modern American literature” but widely esteemed as the most moving attack on racism ever written, routinely appears on lists put out by groups like the ACLU and People For the American Way of works under most sustained assault by book banners—a target, as columnist Michele Malkin succinctly observes, of those “too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them.”
Indeed, Twain himself wrote that he intended Huck’s growing recognition of Jim’s humanity to reflect the nation’s ongoing struggle with slavery’s legacy of deeply embedded racism. For any even semi-sentient reader, it is all there in the pivotal scene where Huck agonizes over whether to send the letter he’s written to Jim’s owners betraying the runaway slave, knowing that, as the beliefs of the time had it, failing to do so will mean forfeiting his soul: “I was a-trembling because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell,’ and I tore it up.”
“Are you calling me a racist?” my son demanded, deeply aggrieved.
My son, already very familiar with the Twain classic, raised his hand and told the teacher that, in fact, it was an anti-racist book—indeed, one of the most powerful ever written. Thus began an increasingly heated back-and-forth that went on for a good 15 minutes, culminating with the teacher saying, “It’s clear you have to work on your racial sensitivity.” “Are you calling me a racist?” my son demanded, deeply aggrieved. When the teacher turned away, refusing to answer, he stalked out of class. He returned home from school that day remarking: “Well, I’m starting out with a C in that class, and working down from there”—a prophecy that proved, alas, all too accurate. But, as I told the Dallas crowd, I was never prouder of him in my life.