The following is a guest post by Linda Keesing, the Media Specialist at New Milford High School. Below are her thoughts on the recent revisions to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Feel free to comment below and she will respond. Linda can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
In February, there will be a new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, minus any appearance of the "N" word. Note that the new book is called a new edition, not a revision. This news has caught the attention of people all over the world.
On January, 6, 2011, New York Times book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani wrote: "Authors’ original texts should be sacrosanct intellectual property, whether a book is a classic or not...Efforts to sanitize classic literature have a long, undistinguished history...Whether it comes from conservatives or liberals, there is a patronizing Big Brother aspect to these literary fumigations. We, the censors, need to protect you, the naïve, delicate reader. We, the editors, need to police writers (even those from other eras), who might have penned something that might be offensive to someone sometime."
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a treasured classic that many students read in high school, as they have for generations. It is also one of the most frequently banned books in the United States. Many people object to its dealing with racism and the use of the "N" word.
Please know that I am appalled by the use of the derogatory "N" word by anyone alive today (or at all during my lifetime)! However, we are talking about a classic work of literature that was published in 1885 in the United States, a very different time in history. During the time that Huck and Jim rafted on the Mississippi, use of the "N" word was common and accepted.
First of all, reading literature provides readers a chance to think about, discuss, and even challenge ideas presented in the text. Literature is often provocative, and I believe it is a positive event when readers are engaged in the art and struggle of finding meaning in it. For our 21st century students to appreciate with sensitivity how times have changed, and how the connotation of the "N" word has changed through the reading of this classic book, means that they have engaged in a teachable moment. With insight, they can realize the context of the times - both then and now.
As our world gets smaller, and people of different cultures need to work and live together, don't we need to examine the very perceptions and misperceptions that we have about each other that may interfere with the reality of needing to get along? Certainly the "N" word is offensive in today's world. Can we parlay a discussion about the outrage that use of that word sparks into a broader discussion about other words and images that are used today that are hurtful and offensive? Can we learn something that will inform our interactions and behavior for the better?