Mark Twain's classic Huckleberry Finn will be scrubbed of its 219 uses of the word "nigger" in a new edition to be published by NewSouth. They say the edit is an attempt to return the book to classroom literature requirements, where its use of the slur (as well as the less frequently used, also to be removed "injun") has long been a deterrent. The revision, as you would expect, has sparked widespread outcry from the censorship-averse Internet. But what will the new text actually look like? The plan is to replace "nigger" with "slave," so we've taken several passages and done just that. Observe the damage below.
Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other slaves. Slaves would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any slave in that country. Strange slaves would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder.
"Why, looky here. There was a free slave there from Ohio -- a mulatter, most as white as a white man...but when they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let that slave vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote again. Them's the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me -- I'll never vote agin as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that slave -- why, he wouldn't a give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way. I says to the people, whay ain't this slave put up at auction and sold?"
Well, he was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head for a slave.
I see it warn't no use wasting words -- you can't learn a slave to argue. So I quit.
"Good gracious! anybody hurt?"
"No'm. Killed a slave."
"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt."
So that cooled them down a little, because the people that's always the most anxious for to hang a slave that hain't done just right is always the very ones that ain't the most anxious to pay for him when they've got their satisfaction out of him.
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And his Aunt Polly she said Tom was right about old Miss Watson setting Jim free in her will; and so, sure enough, Tom Sawyer had gone and took all that trouble and bother to set a free slave free! and I couldn't ever understand before, until that minute and that talk, how he COULD help a body set a slave free with his bringing-up.
As you can see, sometimes the substitution is a little sticky, because they've substituted forced servitude for race. But it's obviously a better solution than going from "nigger" to "African-American." And in many cases, it leaves intent intact.
The first, most important thing to remember about this reprint is that it is not the only edition of Huckleberry Finn you can buy next month, and it won't be next year. The book has entered the public domain. You can read the entire unedited version right now for free online in any number of places. And, of course, it is still being printed in its original form.
So this is not about trying to rewrite history. The question is whether kids in school should be exposed to this language. It's a challenging conversation to have in a classroom, to be sure, but maybe that's the exact reason it's a conversation worth having. On the other hand, you can still have a discussion about the construction of race in America using this new version. And if the choice is between reading slightly watered-down Mark Twain and not reading him at all, it probably makes sense to go with the former.