The Bowlderization of Huck Finn and N word Jim (Family Guy video inside)
"Let such teach others who themselves excel,
And censure freely who have written well." - Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, I, l.15
In the footsteps of Burrows' Tarzan and Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we have yet another case of censorship in literature. As with the two prior books, it is the racially charged language that is targeted. Many have grown angry and the publisher has explained that removing the language was to circumvent inevitable censorship by the schools themselves.
What harm is this causing, if any? The core problem is the dreaded "n-word" has been changed to the word "slave". While they seem as synonyms, I doubt to any African-American the words carry equal clout. It didn't seem to harm changing the Oompa Loompas from African Pygmys to strange little pale skinned men. But The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn't a fantasy novel, per se: it has historical value. As a satire of Southern Antebellum society that thrived before the Civil War (the book was published in the US in 1885), the N-word is used some 200+ times.
I can remember in middle and high school that every teacher had their own approach to handling these situations. One teacher may insist we not say the word at all, some would give us the option, others would insist that we say the word. The latter is the correct teacher for two increadibly important reasons. First, it's honest to the literature, and it forces adolescents to act like adults, even for a few sentences. Second, it reinforces the memory of such things. African Americans suffered greatly for over 200 years of slavery, abuse and oppression. After the Civil War, Jim Crow, seperate but equal legislation, and social icons like Al Jolson continued to propagate stereotypes and oppress the black citizenry. It should never be forgotten in us or in the generations after that this happened. People were called terrible, ugly, racial names and still are.
My solution is this: no more censorship and improve education. I'm not suggesting that Aristophanes be read in middle school classrooms, but sex, profanity, drugs, and violence are all things high school students (at least) deal with on a daily basis. Honest, straightforward talk is the best way to enforce adult behavior. Besides, great literature is great because of the author him or herself, not the editor years later.
Now, for a laugh (sorry for the bad quality):