To tweak or not to tweak a literary classic: Pro-censor

Replacing the racial slur  will let readers learn about “Huckleberry Finn” without feeling uncomfortable, especially in a classroom. Everyone has come into contact with this word at one point or another. Lately, this racial slur 

Replacing the racial slur  will let readers learn about “Huckleberry Finn” without feeling
uncomfortable, especially in a classroom.

Everyone has come into contact with this word at one point or another. Lately, this racial slur  – the N-word – has been a topic of discussion for Mark Twain’s book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

NewSouth Books, a publishing company in Alabama, will replace the N-word with “slave” in Twain’s classic; frankly, there is no problem doing so.

The N-word has a history that goes beyond what many African-Americans endured during the U.S.’s era of slavery. It is, like other racial slurs, disrespectful, degrading and ignorant.

There is no exception for anyone to use the word, especially in an age where the first African-American president does not fit the ignorant stereotype associated with the slur.

We still live in a country where institutionalized racism is practiced against minorities. Keeping the N-word in Twain’s story for readers will re-affirm the stereotypical black male image.

Movie critic Roger Ebert reacted to the controversial N-word omission of Twain’s book and tweeted, “I’d rather be called a n—– than a Slave.”

In the 21st century, racial attitudes amongst people are not as bad as they were in the 16th century. There is an unspoken uproar when a person of another race besides African-American utters the N-word within a group of African-Americans. The removal of this word will not cause an uproar in classrooms.

“Obviously it’s wrong to remove the word ‘n—–’ and thus the impact of the story,” said Tom Chivers in a Jan. 5 article in the Telegraph.

As a writer, Associate Theater Professor Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, is concerned about how Twain would feel about getting his words tweaked.

“There are two schools of thought, but off the top of my head, I don’t know how Mark Twain would feel,” she said. “But as a writer, anyone coming behind me and altering my work, changes the nature and intention of the work.”

The N-word appears 219 times in the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” referring to the slave Jim, whom Huck encountered as he fled his home from his drunk father.

The decision was made to remove the racial slur in the latest edition of Twain’s classic, not with the intent of altering his words, but to allow people to read it, especially in a classroom, without constantly feeling uncomfortable.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer’, and I don’t think I’m alone,” Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University who proposed the word’s removal, told the New York Times in a Jan. 4 article.

One might be skeptical as to why the word should be removed. After all, Twain wrote it when racial injustice was rampant across the United States, and the book’s language only reflects it.

Suzanne La Rosa, co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books, said to the New York Times she received negative e-mails and phone calls about the book’s changes.

“We didn’t undertake this lightly,” La Rosa told the New York Times. “If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is … a good thing.”

“The issue should be,” Witherspoon said,  “whether in the age of Obama, heightened racism and the Tea Party-instigators of racialized polarity, if the remarking of Huckleberry Finn is, in itself … ‘racial nostalgia.’”

Fatia Kasumu can be reached at


  1. I do not think that the n-word in this novel is intended to perpetuate racism. Mark Twain’s inclusion of the word is excessive but he did not use the word to express his own racist attitude toward black people. Rather, he used it to characterize the racism of the time. By removing the word, I feel that we are pretending part of our history and the history of the word itself does not exist. I think it’s important that students studying this literature know that whites did not simple refer to black people by the name “slave” but rather constructed a derogatory term for them that still affects and offends people to this day. As for the problem of discussing and reading the book in school, why can’t teachers simple say “n” rather than the full word? That was what was done in my high school and what seems like a logical and respectful alternative to rewriting a classic work of historical fiction.

  2. Twain was a satirist in 90% of what he wrote; remove the word, remove the power of the satire. Part of the intended effect is to feel uncomfortable, whether teacher/reader is white or black.

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