A publishing company has seen fit to rework not only a master’s literary piece, but a seminal work of American lit in its own right.
As reported by Publisher’s Weekly:
“The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of
her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”
It’s sick sort of romance to think words are powerful and must be handled gingerly or even expunged as Gribben has done here. Ideas are where the power lays and words are but one means of expressing an idea. One could very well use art or music to achieve the same result.
“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben”
Except that’s exactly what Gribben has done. So, he’s swapped in the word ‘slave’ as a placeholder. Slave is about as generic and colorblind as you can make it. Slave is a concept that’s been about for many millennia and transcends skin color. Nigger and injun are particularly American. It’s our particular societal baggage and it does a great disservice to dress it down, shuffle it around, and pretend that it doesn’t exist to save some uncomfortable feelings. Ideas like this need to be in the open, need to be discussed – it’s
what creates healthy discourse.
What Gribben has done here is promoted himself to the role of thought police. By removing the words nigger and injun from the texts he hopes to treat a psychological symptom – uncomfortable confrontation of societal ideals of a certain point in history. Being able to hold a painful idea in your head, tear it apart layer by layer, and rationally analyze it is what leads to understanding, knowledge, and growth. That is the only real cure.
Otherwise, we’re doomed to hide from words – and how fucking stupid is that?
Of course, leave it to Twain to sum up the mind-numbing hypocrisy of it all:
“But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.
- Mark Twain in a letter to Mrs. F. G. Whitmore, 7 February 1907 “