The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that’s what an army is–a mob; they don’t fight with courage that’s born in them, but with courage that’s borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any MAN at the head of it is BENEATH pitifulness. ~ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 22 by Mark Twain
There are all sorts of mobs, but some are harder to identify. One of the toughest to combat, perhaps, is the “politically correct.”
Today, Publisher’s Weekly announced that there will be a new “N-Word” free edition of Mark Twain’s classic available so that no one will have to be “offended.”
But is that at all desirable? If we erase the lessons of history, how can we avoid repeating them? It’s difficult enough to avoid missteps when we know what they are. Erasing our racist, shameful, past will not alter the fact that it happened.
Perhaps some will argue that it is better to have the “cleaned-up” version rather than no Huck Finn at all. After all, the inclusion of the novel on high school, and even college, reading requirements has been in steady decline for many years and has been on the top of the list of “banned” books for quite some time as well, along with other “uncomfortable” works of literature like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Should all of these classics be sanitized as well? What’s next? Frederick Douglass: My Life as a Servant (It Wasn’t That Bad) ?
This sort of whitewash of literature and history rivals Tom Sawyer’s. Admittedly, it’s been a few (cough) years since I’ve read Huck Finn, but it seems to me that replacing the word in question even with something as technically accurate as “slave” misses Twain’s criticism regarding racism in 19th century America. By the time the book was published, slavery was dead; racism was not. Twain’s use of language appalls modern ears, but it spoke directly to the issues of his day. If explained appropriately – by teachers trained to analyze rather than react – I think even high school students could see past the slur to the actual meat of the message.
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