Cannot Be RewrittenIt has become common today to dismiss controversial topicsin hope to soothe those who might be offended. Considering the debate thatsurrounds The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that is exactly what istrying to be done. There has been much dispute on whether or not studentsshould read the novel, considering the “n” word makes an appearance 215 times.On the one hand, parents and teachers argue that the novel should not be taughtin the classroom, as the “n” word is not an appropriate topic and makesstudents uncomfortable, while on the other hand, critics, authors, and lawyerscontend that literature and art should not be censored and that historyshouldn’t be forgotten. Pretending that something didn’t happen in the past,and therefore trying to erase it, only makes it more likely that the situationwill worsen.
However, there are some people who rather not be reminded of thepast. That being said, the novel should be assigned as required reading in highschool, being that there are important distinctions made between good and eviland right and wrong, and therefore the novel teaches major lessons thatshouldn’t be overlooked, but the New South Edition should also be readilyavailable to students who would rather not read the offensive language. One of themain reasons that the novel is opposed is because some people believe thatTwain is being racist towards Jim and don’t feel as though the novel should beread, as it belittles those who have also been subject to such racism. However,it’s important to note the context of which a word is being used. As said byRandall Kennedy, a situation can “become stunted in the absence of any sense ofirony” (Document F).
The amount of satire that Twain uses throughout the novelcan’t and shouldn’t be ignored. It is that exact satire that portrays just howdegrading the “n” word is, but not towards African Americans. In fact, everytime the “n” word makes an appearance, if one truly understands the novel andthe message that Twain is sending to the readers, the only people beingdegraded and opposed are the whites. It’s hard to satirize something if peopledon’t know exactly what’s being criticized. The fact that people are opposingthe novel because they can’t take their mind off the word shows how unawarethey are of Twain’s use of satire, or haven’t take the time to read the bookand understand the use, deciding that anything they don’t agree with doesn’tdeserve their time. A word by itself does not include context, tone, or irony,all of which Twain utilizes to clearly portray how the “n” word being used isnot “branding blacks, but rather branding the whites” (Document F). Ifanyone should feel belittled and attacked by Twain’s words, it should be thewhites. It is saidthat history is written by the victors.
For this reason, people today usuallyfind a way to excuse slavery and make it seem as though it was truly the onlyoption. That angers others who want everyone to accept that some things areinexcusable. Yet Twain, who owns up to the fact that slavery existed anddoesn’t try to hide it, is opposed. Now all of a sudden people want everyone toforget? Now they want to deny that anything happened? Choosing to “redact bookson school reading lists is a form of denial: shutting the door on harshhistorical realities—whitewashing them and pretending they do not exist”, andshould not be the first response to controversial literature (Document D). It’simportant to note that at the time Twain was writing this novel, he wassurrounded by slavery and the use of the word. In his aim to capture the localcolor of the region that the novel is set in, he didn’t think twice when hedecided to use the “n” word.
It is not because he was racist, as he “grew tohate slavery and the brutality of Jim Crow”, it is because the purpose of hisnovel required the use of the word (Document F). He wants the audience tobecome just as infuriated and uncomfortable as he was with what he witnessedaround him. To decide to remove books that include situations that are wrongand shouldn’t have happened doesn’t erase the fact that they did happen. Itmakes them more prominent and worsens them, as nothing is being addressed orworked through. Though it’s obvious today that such words shouldn’t be used,the past isn’t today, and people should be able to set aside the “narcissisticcontemporary belief that art should be inoffensive and accessible, that books,plays, and poetry from other times and places should somehow be made to conformto today’s democratic ideals” (Document D).
Slavery is prominent in the book,as is racism, but deciding to ignore it will not change the fact that thosethings existed, and are still existing. Somepeople argue that the novel shouldn’t be read at all, whether or not the it’scensored. The fact that Twain focuses on slavery and racism is too much forsome people to handle, as they “can recall nothing of the literary merits” ofthe novel and can only remember when the people around them snickered everytime the demoralizing word was said aloud (Document A). In the opinion of manyAfrican Americans, the use of the “n” word is not appropriate, “ironically orseriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake ofcomedy” (Document B). It’s understandable that people may be sensitive to theword and may feel degraded and attacked. I myself have felt degraded whenpeople have brought up the Armenian Genocide, claiming that it was theArmenians’ fault that they were massacred and stating that I should just forgetabout it. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about it at all, since it saddens meto remember what happened to my ancestors.
But, when I do talk about it, I makea point to educate others on what really occurred and use that event in historythat shouldn’t have happened to make positive change in my own life and in thepeople I am addressing. This is very much like the novel, as the points madeabout the wrongdoings in the South are used to help create a positive changethroughout the nation. The novel was deemed a literary classic for a reason.Those who still can’t bear the sight of the word have another option. AlanGribben went through the novel and changed the “n” word to slave, which censorsthe novel and makes it more appropriate. Gribben explains that if the novel iscensored, then it can “be enjoyed just as deeply and authentically if readersare not obliged to confront the n-word on so many pages” (Document B). Theregionalism of Twain is not affected, but the offensive aspect of the languageis not as prominent as it is in the original.
Gribben’s modification ensuresthat those who are subject to racism do not feel debased when they sense thepast catching up with them.There’s no doubt that the presence of the “n” word in TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finn makes the novel questionable. However, thestrong opposition to slavery and the moral lessons present in the novel are notquestionable. Though it would be easy to push the negativity away, that can’tand shouldn’t happen. The novel should be read, even if it’s censored, becausethough the censorship may take a little away from Twain’s truth, the centralmessage and the satire are not affected.
To neglect the novel would be toneglect history and lose all the truth, emotion, and progress that has beenmade ever since the world in which Twain lived in. History may be written bythe victors, but it can not be rewritten.