Re-writing Huckleberry Finn: An injustice to a writer’s craft

 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often considered Mark Twain’s greatest masterpiece and has long been regarded as one of the best books in American literature. It captured a very real time in American history that dealt with slavery, racism, and the relationship between whites and blacks in the United States.  

Combining his raw humor and startlingly mature material, Twain developed a novel that directly attacked many of the traditions the South held dear at the time of its publication.

Huck Finn is the main character in the novel and through his eyes, the reader sees and judges the South, its faults, and its redeeming qualities. 

I remember reading this in high school and while the material was sometimes offensive it was an honest representation of the social obstacles of Twain’s era. It allowed me to understand and empathize with life as an African American living in the South. Given that, why would anyone want to re-write such a great American classic?

A recent op-ed piece appeared in yesterday’s NY Daily News addressing how some educators and scholars want to replace the “N” word in the book with the word “slave”. In fact, Huck Finn is currently banned in several school libraries for its content and language. As if banning the book and replacing the “N” word will magically erase all of the social injustices that occurred at that time. Call me crazy but as I recall, slavery DID happen and black people WERE called the “N” word. Unfortunately, it is a part of our history.

As a writer and as I assume most writers do,  I often write about my experiences. I capture on paper (or on-line) the current issues affecting my community and society as a whole. Therefore, I find it offensive that a literary work that was written during a time of slavery is being criticized and banned for use of language that was part of the everyday vernacular of the day.

As Shelly Fishkin states in her op-ed piece “Sanitizing the language which aided and abetted white America‘s denial of the humanity of black Americans from the nation’s founding doesn’t change that history…Facing that history in all its offensiveness is crucial to understanding it and transcending it, and literature is uniquely positioned to help us do that.”

If we begin to re-write books and change the language that was intended by the author we inevitably change the authenticity and integrity of the work .

What do you think? Should we be re-writing books just because the language used may be offensive to some?

To read the NY Daily News Op-Ed piece click on the link:

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