Re-Writing an American Classic

Alex Mendoza

Mark Twain’s masterpiece The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an enduring American classic and among required reading lists in academic literary canon all across the country. However, a publication company called NewSouth Books has chosen to release a new edition of the novel, removing racially derogatory words toward African Americans and replacing them with the word “slave.” The word “Injun” will also be removed from the book.

NewSouth Books has defended its decision for such word removals by claiming that since it is now the 21st century, language has changed and some censorship is necessary for a steadily evolving world and some will argue that language is indeed unnecessary if it promotes racially backward points of view. However, as with other various instances of censorship, the act of removing certain words is blasphemous to some who believe that it distorts the author’s true intents and misconstrues the message.

“Race matters in these books,” Alan Gribben, Mark Twain scholar, stated in an interview. “It’s a matter of how you express it in the 21st century.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a racially backward novel, however. It is a product of pure expression and attitude woven with language of the time. Twain was a southern man but certainly not an imbecile prone to destructive thought. Much like Twain’s prequel to Huck Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he uses colloquial language and acceptable terms of an era of white supremacy throughout a war-fevered south. The book does not exaggerate the use of certain words, nor does it make excuses for them, rather it presents them as part of an honest fabric of language from the time period. They are a true, though now unsightly, mark on American history, culture and speech.

A major concern coming from this is the decision for teachers. Should they or should they not have students read a censored version of the book? Will it hinder the learning experience by obscuring Mark Twain’s message? Or will it be very suitable for this generation of teenagers who often take matters of race lightly?

As pure as NewSouth Book’s intentions are, controversy will always ensue when the original of an American classic is being tampered with. If Mark Twain were still alive, it is almost certain that he would be against the editing of his novel for the sake of his readers delicate sensibilities. His book was meant to shock, offering realistic and honest portrayals of Southern life, including the distasteful state of slavery. Twain was an introspective man and gifted satirist whose reasons for writing were to entertain, convince and perhaps ruffle his readers a bit. Just because the man has long passed does not mean that we have the right to go swapping around words just to make it a teeny bit more acceptable for immature readers.