Words are set in stone: Changing literature is not an option

January 31, 2011 — by Izzy Albert

Sorry Huck, they still want to “sivilize” you.

One of the first great American novels, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has been both praised and slammed for its satirical approach to illustrate the atmosphere of the antebellum South. Mark Twain, the novel’s author, exemplified the hostility between whites and blacks during the time through the usage of language and diction.

In order to correctly and accurately portray the appropriate vernacular, Twain used the infamous “n-word” over 200 times in the characters’ dialogue. This one word has caused the classic novel to face much criticism, mostly from those who are ashamed of the racial slur’s deeper meanings. The book is even banned in some libraries and schools throughout the nation.

In an effort to bring the novel back onto reading lists and into English teachers’ curriculum, professor Alan Gribben of Auburn University has recently produced a new edition of Twain’s novel that replaces “nigger” with “slave.” The news of the novel’s edited version sparked almost as much controversy as the original novel itself.

Changing literature—whether it be classic or not—should never be considered an option to provide a legitimate middle-ground for the readers. Literature’s ultimate purpose is to make the reader contemplate the author’s message on a deeper level, leaving everything open to interpretation. As a result, nearly every great literary work will cause its own sort of controversy in one way or another, which is exactly the point.

Tampering with an author’s words is not only disrespectful but also incredibly ignorant. To completely rid of the “n-word” in a classic tale is an attempt to erase a significant part of our nation’s history. The “n-word,” despite its negative connotations, is a necessary component to the novel’s authenticity, simply because it represents people’s beliefs at the time.

Censorship has become an uncomfortably common part of many Americans’ everyday lives. Movies have ratings, taboo words are “bleeped out” in songs on the radio, and even the ambiguous “freedom of speech” and “freedom of press” have their fine print. Society will become completely corrupt when book stores begin to sell two versions of every novel: “original” and “censored.”

In his novel, Twain mainly satirizes the many faults of civilization and society. Huck, the main character, resists becoming civilized because of how corrupt society’s morals were. It would be extremely ironic if Twain were alive to witness what is being done to his book today.

Twain, like all other esteemed authors, had particular intentions behind each word written in his novel. He purposely depicted slavery in a vulgar manner with the intention of bluntly portraying reality. If students are taught to read the “politically correct” version of the novel, they will in effect also be sheltered from learning about the complexities and truths of slavery and our nation’s history as a whole.

As long as teachers directly address the use of the word in the novel and discuss it in class, learning about the word and its meaning can only be beneficial for students. Literature should remain untouched, unedited, and uncensored. The readers should be exposed to the entirety of the story, the way the novel’s author intended.

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