Re-writing history; Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn

In Author, Bestseller, Book, Censorship, English, Fiction, History, Mark Twain on 05/01/2011 at 22:26

The classic tale of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, has become the center of debate. Personally, I find it quite remarkable that a book published in 1884 is point of discussion in 2011 – a rough 127 years later. Though the story is still published, an editor’s decision to censor one word (the N-word) has led to a worldwide debate about history, literature and censorship.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Any book written at any point in time, is in one way or another a reflection of the general mindset at that time. Whether it’s Romeo and Juliet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Wave, Anne Frank’s diary or Orwell’s 1984.

Mark Twain wrote his story over half a century before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired the world to dream. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United States in 1885, 70 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time of Mark Twain, Jim Crow laws weren’t (publically) questioned, it was the way things were. Back then. In history. To some sensitive souls, being confronted with the mindset from the late 1800’s might be unpleasant.

You can edit a word in a book, but you can’t change history. Unfortunately.

By censoring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to make it more accessible to people who would otherwise feel offended by the use of the word “nigger”, I wonder if 50 to 100 years from now, some publisher will decide to censor Anne Frank’s diary and remove all references to Jews or Nazi’s. Or perhaps Antjie Krog’s Country Of My Skull will severely be edited – simply because the reality of our world’s history is too painful for some people to read.

Another risk of editing a story such as Huckleberry Finn, is that by doing so, the editor takes away any opportunity for a discussion on how and why our world has changed. Instead of avoiding somebody getting hurt by reading a fictive story that took place in history, teachers should encourage a discussion and a reflection as to what the world has become today.

Responding to one of the articles online, Carolyn Jewel remarks “When my son was 10 or so, I read him a book from the 1920’s about sailing about the ocean with Captain Drake. It contained offensive passages about non-white people. I ended up pausing to discuss those passages with him and told him, after we’d talked about what people thought when the book was written and why it was offensive and wrong I went back to reading it to him“.
Isn’t that what literature is for – to educate our children? Or should we avoid telling them the truth because otherwise someone will take offence? Should we also prevent children from reading Shakespeare because Hamlet is too violent and Romeo & Juliet’s love is too complicated?

Feel free to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your opinion!

If you’d like to read more about these changes, please read:

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elsie Stills, Elsie Stills. Elsie Stills said: The discussion about Mark Twain's classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still going strong. Read my take at http://wp.me/p13BcS-3U […]

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