A Streak of Bad Huck

It was reported last week that some publisher is going to change Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huck Finn and reprint it so it’s fit to be read in the 21st century.  Professor Somebody (like, I care what his name is) from Auburn has taken it upon himself to bugger up bowdlerize Twain by replacing the N-word with “Slave” and changing the I-word to “Indian.”  He hopes to fluffy up an American tale that has some sharp edges on it and thus bring Twain to a whole new generation of uber-sensitive readers.  The story caused such a stir across North America that this morning, less than 7 days later, I can find no mention of it.  Obviously, the publishers are going to go ahead with this literary castration.   My contempt for this sordid violation is surpassed only by my contempt for the society that allows it happen.  Unfortunately, I am not Twain, so I don’t have the words to properly condemn us all to Hell where we will surely go for this brutal act of nice.

The N-word offends me.  I’ve heard it a lot, in my time.  It never gets easier on my ears.  However, it doesn’t offend me that a dead white guy, hand-wrote it out in full, and published it in a fantastic novel more than 100 years ago.  Why would it?  People in 1885 were barbarians.  They peed outside for God’s sake.

What offends me is the “N-word” itself.  It offends me that perky TV personalities, who are so white they’re blue, use it with such pained contrivance.  It offends me that academic fundamentalists, whose only brush with Black America was watching Spike Lee movies in their sophomore year, use the word to advertise their inherent understanding of The Black Experience.  It offends me that regular people are starting to use it promiscuously, as though all the nuanced cruelty is covered up by this thin disguise.  It offends me that it has become acceptable in polite society, just exactly the way its ugly grandfather was acceptable in 1885.  And it offends me that the all the Professor Somebodies in the world think they’re doing Black people a big favour with this white-wash.

I have a good friend (I’m going to change his name because he is my friend) and when we were young and foolish, we used to drink together quite a bit.  My friend wasn’t comfortable drinking at places I frequented so we used to drink at bars in his neighbourhood.  One day he asked me, “Why do white people keep bringin’ this shit stuff up, all the time?  Man, I got more stories than they ever seen.”  We were drinking heavily at the time, and the conversation got waylaid before I could answer.  Actually, that’s not true: this is what really happened, but I’m going to clean it up a lot — so nobody gets offended.

We were drinking heavily, and we ran out of money.  My friend went over to his friends and said something like, “Hey, chums! I’ll bet you a pitcher of beer that I can show you a man with no butt.” They probably replied, “Nonsense!  That’s seems highly unlikely.  I’ll take that wager.  Prove your statement to be true.”  (This is losing something in the translation, isn’t it?  Let me step it up a bit but not too much: I don’t want to offend anybody.)  My friend brought his group of friends back to where I was sitting and said to me, “Stand up.”  I did.  He said, “See, African Americans?  This man ain’t got no ass.”  From there, the multi-level conversation went something like this.

“Whoa!  You right!  He ain’t got no ass!”
“Nonsense!  Get ut da way.  Let me see this stuff.”
“Po!  What?  He sick or sometin?  Got a disease?  Eat his ass off like dat?”
“Man, where he from, got no ass?  He ain’t from aroun’ ‘ere man.  No way. I’da noticed that stuff.”

My friend’s friends were clearly warming to the subject.
“Hey! African American! Come over here!  Andrew got his self a guy wit no ass.”
“Whatta fornication?  Where his ass at?”
“He don’t got one.  See.  He like straight up and down.  Stick man.”
“Nonsense!  How the maternal fornicator keep his pants up?”
“He got pants on, don’t he?  See wit your eyes, African American!”

There was more, a lot more, but it’s difficult to portray the mood and spirit of the situation correctly while treading so carefully.   Mark Twain didn’t have that problem.  He lived in the Victorian Age — a time, by all accounts, as repressive as our own.  They did, however, do one thing properly: they actually read the books before they burned them.

There will always be professor somebodies out there, ready to remedy the world.  And there will always be anti-censorship cheerleaders who storm the blogosphere barricades for a whole 4 days or until their consciences are clear.  But to the witless ones who aid them both in their endeavours, I say read Huck Finn — before it’s too late – because, when Huck says , “All right, so then, I’ll go to Hell.” at least he knows why he’s been condemned to make that journey and you should too.

6 thoughts on “A Streak of Bad Huck

  1. This reminds me of a black student who once told me “I had to leave England; as a thinking person I couldn’t stand to live without my race ever being discussed because of politically correct niceness” (my paraphrase). We went on to study the play “A Raisin in the Sun” and she was the least sentimental of the class—about class. She taught me a great deal about our liberal “preciousness” that can actually be insulting to people who have something to say about ambition and a resistance to be labelled as a “victim” of imperialism. Breath of fresh air, those students can be!
    Good post, Bill.
    I notice you are holding back on the Arizona shooting. My take is let them figure out themselves. Exciting times, tragedy, of course, acknowledged!

  2. I have had to think about this piece for quite awhile before I replied. This is a subject that is very disturbing to me. It brings to mind, a few years back, someone, somewhere wanted to re-write some of the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, because “They were of a violent nature for children”. A Farmer’s Wife wheeling a carving knife was going to cut of the tails of three blind mice, a giant was going to grind the bones of an Englishman to make his bread etc, now in WD’s article someone wants to re-write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. All the books I, and many others enjoyed as a young adult were filled with words that society of today would class as Politically Incorrect, so what. I’ve read all the books like Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Mutiny on the Bounty etc. but that doesn’t mean because I read them I’m offended by the words that were printed or run around using the words I read. These books were written how many years ago? Re-write the classic books that have been with us for so many years, I don’t think so. All I can say is parents, grandparents hold on to the books you enjoyed as children because if the learned people that know better than anyone else re-write the books from days gone by, the originals will be gone forever. Young people read as fast as you can.

  3. I have to agree with Amoriarty. I took a different position on this piece because of the idea to re-write the Mark Twain classic Adventure of Huckleberry Finn make me absolutely livid. I didn’t miss the point of the whole piece, I do understand what WD was saying but for someone to come along now after 100 years and tell the rest of us that we have to change things because this book might be offending a Africian American, someone just has to much time on their hands.

  4. Got to see the humor in this one. The ignorance of people amazes me, and it goes on and on. Disney got it’s grubby little hands on the classic stories and the result is this…..re-write the stories so no one is offended. What’s next do we start re-writing history so that wars aren’t as bloody, and Hilter was really just a nice guy who was a bit upset with his mother and Jewish people.

  5. N Watt, how true, how true. All in the name of possibly offending someone. The people that are suppose to be offended, don’t give a damn in the first place.

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