Mark Twain is so Pissed Right Now

Mark Twain's classics are ones that most of us are familiar with, whether we're fans or not. They represent a place in history, society and literature, and are at times considered controversial. Like now.

Professor Alan Gribben from Auburn University has worked with a publishing company to rewrite Twain's classics Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, removing the words "nigger" and "injun." In his recent interview with NPR, he justifies the change by saying this will allow more students access to the text, since many schools won't allow it to be read in classrooms because of the offensive language.

I acknowledge the fact that his intentions are probably rooted in a love of Twain, and supporters called into the NPR show thanking him for making literature more accessible. Now that this humble, respectful hat-tipping has been made, I now won't feel bad when I say, "What the hell?"

Yes, the words "nigger" and "injun" are extremely abrasive, yet they represent a place in time that was different- using these words in literature is an accurate depiction of race and culture before the Civil Rights Era. Students and readers in general deserve an authentic, honest portrayal of setting and character interactions. Teachers should fight to use these texts in their classrooms- they are excellent learning tools to show students the differences between now and then, and what not to do or say. When I had my students read To Kill a Mockingbird I was very upfront about the word; when reading aloud we literally said "n-word," and I told the students to handle the word however they felt comfortable when they used it in their writing (some wrote "n-word," some "nigger," and some did everything could to write around it). Reading the word "nigger" isn't going to make teenagers run out into the street yelling it at every black person they see (they'd get their asses kicked) or become racist.

Not being a fan of abridged versions to begin with, I feel that any sort of tampering with a text is unacceptable. I'm even weary of translations! What gives this publishing company the right to alter the writing of an author, let alone Twain? What's next?

This also brings up the whole issue of the word "nigger," anyway. Rappers use it constantly, but since they're African American it seems to be acceptable. Riddle me this- as a white girl, when I'm singing along to Kanye or Jay-Z can I say "nigger?" Interesting. If Twain was black would the word be removed from his texts?

As for the word, I think it has some pretty powerful racial, literary, societal, and historical implications. Obviously it's offensive and it's hurtful, but there seems to be some fuzziness on it's current place in America. I'm not going to call anyone it, nor will I tolerate any of my students using it, but removing it from literature? I think not. It's all about context.

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