Monday, January 10, 2011

I'll be your Huckleberry...

News hit recently that newly edited versions of Mark Twain’s classic works in American literature, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn omitting “racially sensitive” terminology will be published. The editor of this collection, Auburn University Professor, Alan Gribben, defends this edition in the introduction: “We may applaud Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era, but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers.”

I do understand where he is coming from and why the decision may have been made. But it is still censorship, and the altering of one of America’s greatest contributions to literature. But more importantly, it robs our children the opportunity to learn the historical context. To really get a sense of how life was in the United States in Mark Twain’s time.

Gribben states that it was an attempt to keep the classics from being banned from school use. A truly noble cause to be sure, albeit a little misguided. A little bit of controversy may be the thing that grabs students’ attention. Why edit out a word so inflammatory? By confronting it head on, educators may be able to use that controversy as a tool to start a discussion on race relations throughout American history. I feel that it can be an amazing educational opportunity. Not only to read a fine example of literature, but to appreciate it as a time-specific art form, and accept that our young nation has undergone some very agonizing growing pains in its short 235 years.

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