Sunday, January 9, 2011
Huckleberry Finn and the n-word: Where Do You Stand?
In case you’ve been living under a rock as I often do, there’s a tempest brewing in the literary world. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has been published with the notorious n-word taken out—replaced by ‘slave’(not the edition pictured above). Outrageous or a reasonable alternative for teachers to use?
First off, I haven’t read Huck Finn, but if I do, I’ll take the original version. The n-word is an ugly word, but I’m guessing it was chosen, in part, because of that ugliness. If you want to peg a modern-day character as brutish, ignorant, racially biased and mean, using that word will do it. Then again, a conversation between two black characters set in 2011 might see the word used in jest.
But what about historical writing? My current wip takes places in the late 1850’s on a tobacco plantation using slaves. As much as I cuss in real life, I never use the n-word. But I’m not one of my characters. Will I use the n-word in this book? My internal debate is ongoing.
As a parent, I have a hard time taking sides. I would let my children read the original version, but I wouldn’t organize a protest if a teacher of theirs wanted to use the sanitized version.
I do have cause to worry about racial epitaphs with my kids. I’m a pale-as-milk Caucasian, but my husband is very dark with an Indian/Caribbean heritage. Our two girls are mocha-babies. Big Bear has already been called a ‘redacted’ by one of her first-grade classmates. (Oh dear God, this name-caller is on my shit list and if she ever says this to my child again, there’ll be hell to pay.)
Okay, now I’m more informed on how names can hurt—more than I ever wanted to be.
How do you feel about this controversy (as a parent, a writer, or both)?
Want to read more? Check out the following or google “Huck Finn n word”.
Huck Finn, A Teacher’s Guide
Huckleberry Finn Looses the N-word
Teacher thinks Obama is proof that 'Huckleberry Finn' needs to leave the classroom