I don’t read fiction – for the most part- but nonetheless, I was appalled to read in the New York times that the new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will be edited, to appease the uncomfortable feelings of Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn Universityat Montgomery.
The new edition will be published in February will have the word “nigger” replaced with the word “slave”. The NY Times also reported that, “The book substitutes “Indian” for “injun.” Although the reason for this change was allegedly to “offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers” it is concerning to see people try to assuage “white guilt” by editing the past. Thankfully, Twain wasn’t a historian, but his writings have a place in history, the language he used, and stories are presented in context that is specific to a time an place, and they cannot simply be re-written.
According to the Times, NewSouth Books, the publisher of this version has been ““assaulted” with negative e-mails and phone calls” since information about these edits was published. A column in The Huffington Post by Richard Greener also showed anger at the change, but it came from the perspective of an author in relation to liberties taken by editors, and who owns what part of the content. A critique of this change was also made in the Wall Street Journal, essentially saying, If we censor Twain, where will the censoring stop. Reed also showed anger about, about culture and politics seeking to be more “politically correct”.
The best way to change and move forward is to learn from the past and do things differently. Changing a classic novel in order to “make us feel better” about what we teach our kids, is just another symbolic change- the kind we see everyday in schools, politics, and communities- that while it will aggravate many, but will do little or nothing to do away with the future, in relation to race, race issues, and racism.