Censoring Huck Finn

There’s a pretty big furor right now in my homeland (the United States) over censorship of Mark Twain’s classic novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain “scholar” (and I use that term very lightly, which I’ll get to shortly) Alan Gribben has put out a censored version which replaces the volatile word “nigger” with “slave” and replaces the offensive “injun” to “Indian” (which is stupid in its own right since Indian is hardly a racially sensitive word in this context). Gribben’s justification is that schools won’t teach the book because of the racial epithets used in it.

I find it very ironic that in the early days of its release, Huck Finn was controversial not because of racial epithets. That was the language of the day. Rather, it was controversial because it portrayed a black character (Jim) as a sympathetic and real human being as opposed to just a caricature. Today, the book is wrongly accused of being racist because it uses racially-charged language. And it’s obvious the people making this accusation have either never read the book or are just too stupid to grasp what I was able to figure out when I was a teenager. Both are likely scenarios, unfortunately.

And if Gribben is really a Twain scholar, then he should know better than anyone what a profoundly stupid move this is. Gribben said that at public readings, when he used “slave” instead, the audience was more comfortable. Well that’s the point — the audience is supposed to be uncomfortable. Satire is supposed to make us uncomfortable, it’s supposed to be sharp and biting, it’s supposed to be fierce. Taking that away completely defeats the entire point of the story. Twain didn’t just use whatever word popped into his mind — he was very careful about what words he chose to use and even what punctuation he used. Gribben, being a supposed Twain scholar, should know this.

Caving in to morons who don’t understand the true meaning of the book is an insult to Twain’s memory and his work. And it’s also lazy. Gribben is doing an immense disservice to the memory of a man he claims to honor. He’s essentially saying to all the idiots out there, “you’re right, Twain was a racist but the story was fun, so let’s take out all the racist parts.” In effect, he’s dragging Twain’s name through the mud.

If Gribben were a true Twain scholar, he would take the route others who respect the work have — he would explain why these words are in there and why they should not be changed. I never knew Alan Gribben before this debacle and now that I do know who he is, I hope I never hear his name again.

Censorship is never the right move. Art is supposed to shine a harsh light on society, that’s something anyone who knows even a little bit about criticism understands. And it’s a move that’s ultimately completely worthless. We aren’t teaching our children about the evils of racism by pretending these words don’t exist — in fact, kids encounter the n-word everywhere. It’s used in movies and music all the time!

Mr. Gribben, you should be ashamed of yourself. Mark Twain is rolling over in his grave.


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