Source: My High School Journalism – By Michelle Robertson – Acalanes H.S.
That’s the number of times the word “nigger” appears in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In 219 instances, this six-letter word is tucked into the novel’s pages, each inducing an involuntary cringe, an awkward exchange of glances, a momentary pause in which the reader contemplates whether he should just skip over it or continue reading like nothing happened.
To jettison Huck Finn of such a word, as English professor Alan Gribben at Auburn University in Alabama is attempting to do, is censorship masked by a thick layer of political correctness. The novel has been banned countless times since its publication, and changing Mark Twain’s words is just as unacceptable.
Gribben claims that he is doing ol’ Mark Twain a favor, as Huck Finn is dropping out of schools’ curricula faster than Huck could dirty a pair of new knickers.
Language in literature is much like nudity in classical art; one cannot censor the creativity that is considered genius. Mark Twain’s Huck Finn deserves the same respect to its integrity as Michelangelo’s David, or his Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
What’s next? Perhaps Gribben and his adherents could change the word “Nazi” to “Racist German” because who really wants to have to say something with such a stigma surrounding it If the “n-word” is no longer allowed in Huck Finn, why stop there? Why not take it out of the dictionary, rap songs, and all of American literature? Purge America of all evidence of this nasty word so citizens are free to continue living in social ignorance and remain unencumbered by the crimes of its ancestors’ pasts.
Mark Twain knew what he was doing. He used the “n-word” to forever preserve the epithet. Twain spent nearly ten years writing his great American masterpiece, and it is indisputable that he carefully calculated the impact of each word and phrase in his novel.
Twain is the reigning master of the vernacular, and changing the “n-word” to “slave” disrupts the integrity and flow of his carefully crafted language. One wouldn’t change the rhyming scheme in a poet’s work because doing so would disrupt the way it sounds, and changing any of Twain’s words has a similar effect on Huck Finn. “Miss Watson’s Nigger” has a much greater impact, in tone and theme, than “Miss Watson’s Slave.”
The word is losing the power of its true meaning in today’s world, slung around nonchalantly by rappers and people of all races. Rap songs shoot out the “n-word” like confetti at a child’s birthday party. The nonchalant use of the word blurs the lines between a harmless nickname and what the n-word really was and remains, a vulgar epithet.
Huck Finn preserves the “n-word” for what it is and was, a derogatory word meant to suppress the people it was aimed at into a state of eternal servitude and inequality. Frankly, the “n-word” is unacceptable in every context except in such a case as Huck Finn, which uses the word as a way to demonstrate the poisonous racial ethos that was the South.
Gribben argues that usage of the word creates an uncomfortable learning environment for some students. Such a fact makes the inclusion of the “n-word” in Huck Finn necessary. People should face the fact that the word exists, and serves as a reminder of a terrible period in American history.
If The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is subject to censorship, then timeless classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, may as well share the same fate, as they each include the “n-word” in their print.
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a testament to freedom of expression and is a reminder to Americans that this country’s dark past cannot simply be erased with a trademark Tom Sawyer whitewash.