Should Huckleberry Finn be censored?Recently, a controversial edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was released, censored to remove the n-word.  This has also been discussed about other...

Should Huckleberry Finn be censored?

Recently, a controversial edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was released, censored to remove the n-word.  This has also been discussed about other books, such as Farenheit 451 and The Catcher in the Rye.

Which version should we teach?  Should any book be censored?

Expert Answers
bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an American Literature teacher who has taught this book many times, I have to agree with those who say "don't censor it."

While it was difficult to read the N word aloud in class, it is necessary for high schoolers to understand the world in which Sam Clemens lived. In the South, during Huck's time period, slaves would indeed be called the N word. Changing the word, or deleting it would lessen the importance of Huck befriending Jim. You see, Huck was raised to see blacks as subserviant (which the N word reinforces). He was taught that N******s were not people, but property that was to be used.  For Huck to see beyond the N word and see Jim as not only a person, but a friend is what teaches the real lesson. Huck brings us from where he was to his awakening realization that friendship and love know no color boundaries. The book simply would not be as powerful without the controversial word.

That said, care must be used in the teaching of the book. When I have African Americans in my class, I usually approach them before the reading of the novel and prepare them for the words they will encounter. After I explain the context and the reason for allowing students to read the word, the students have always been not only ok with it, but eager to see what it is all about.

catd1115 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I absolutely don't think that Huck Finn should be censored. I am against censorship in all its forms, first of all. Second of all by censor a book to make it more acceptable to certain groups palates we take something away from its original intention. None of us are Mark Twain and no amount of analysis can tell us why he used the "n" word or what he would think about its removal. I would not want my writing censored in that way. Third, as educators we need to educate, not just pass along some information that is easy and acceptable. We need to use these moments to teach our students to form opinions, to understand historical context and more. Each teacher and school needs to decide if the lessons of Huck Finn merit its teaching in the curriculum, but if you are unwilling or unable to teach it as it is and use it as a teaching and learning tool to stretch our students experiences then just don't use it at all. Don't dumb it down, stop trying to make everything acceptable and nice, because that is not the reality that our students will face in the world. Isn't it better they learn how to handle something that makes them uncomfortable early on in a controlled setting, than out in the street?

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can't get too worked up about the Bowdlerization of Huck Finn. I think that replacing "nigger" with "slave" is a bit silly because they do not refer to exactly the same group of people.  So I might have tried for a different word, but I don't mind the idea of the change.

The reason for that is that I don't think Twain had in mind that his use of the word "nigger" would impact his readers in the way that it impacts us.  The word did not have the same accumulated baggage back then that it does now.  Of course, it was a demeaning term, but it was much more normal then.  So Twain was using a word that was normal (as opposed to deeply offensive) in his time and was not trying to be controversial.

So I don't really think that changing the word changes the meaning of the book from what Twain wanted it to be.

That said, I think it's pretty pointless and I think that it is generally better not to change books -- I think we should just let them be as they are and use the "offensive" stuff as teachable moments.

jennadc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Censorship of any work of art should be prevented. In order to remain true to Twain's intent and accurately represent the societal constructs of the time, you must retain the original language. We cannot allow the word "nigger" discourage the reading of Twain or any other book. Allow the use of the word to open the discussion of racism and use it as a teaching tool, instead of cowering away from the sensitivity of the subject. If we censor Twain, what is next? Do we stop teaching To Kill a Mockingbird since it uses the "N" word? At what point will society think that we've gone to far? I think that once we start such censorship we open up the door to censor all literature. Maybe those that agree with censorship should sit down with Fahrenheit 451.

Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It shouldn't be censored. Huck Finn needs to be understood in its historical context. Mark Twain was very progressive and anti-racist despite his character's use of racial epithets.

Beyond that, I for one am highly uncomfortable with the idea that replacing "nigger" with "slave" is a politically acceptable solution to the perceived problem. The usage of word "slave" in reference to people of color needs to be re-examined. Not all people of color where enslaved and those that were were still people. There's no place in Africa called Slaveland where all the slaves came from. People were kidnapped from their homes, imprisoned, and then enslaved. I think that's an important distinction.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It should not be censored.  The book can not impact today's readers in the same way if you change the original.  We teach this to our children daily in close reading analyzing the author's purpose for the word choice printed.  It is NEVER the same impact by using a synonym.  Twain's novel was pro-Jim.  Jim is the most likeable and honorable character in the book.  Anyone who has actually read the book has to realize this, and thus the offensive word becomes not so is just a word as used in that historical context.  However, it should not be changed to suit the delicate sensibilities of our time. 

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't think it makes any sense to sensor a book, particularly one like Huck Finn.  If certain people or a particular school wants to prevent their children from reading it because they find it offensive then by all means let them do it.  But decisions like that are one of the many that we are allowed to make for ourselves or our children so leaving it that way is fine by me.

For folks who do want to censor it, they can now find this new version and perhaps it is a good thing that they will be able to read it or share it with their kids in a way that doesn't offend them.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No! I think to censor this excellent novel is to pay deference to political correctness that really is not warranted. Also, I think superficial readings of this novel may point towards a racist, pro-slavery stance that actually, if you study it carefully, is never actually there. This novel has profound things to say about slavery and its treatment in history and we need to read this novel in its historical context to appreciate these points.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question has been addressed after the news of the Auburn professor who has made removing n--  and injun from the text.

  Always whenever freedoms are taken from people they are eroded rather than abruptly stolen.  In this way some people feel that they are being looked after.

Scott Locklear eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For more info about this edition of Huck Finn, see our post on the eNotes blog here.

cynrey30 | Student

i do not think that it should be censored because it wll take away the meaning of the story. without the words that are in there it takes away from the point and the meaning behind the book. the reader would not be able to see how it was back then, and to them that talking was normal. it might be ofennsive to people but wihout those words, the reader wont get the same meaning as if the words were taken out.

krcavnar | Student

I believe it is important for people to understand the term and how it was used.  It does make us uncomfortable and rightfully so.  We cannot undo what has been done, written or said.  We must use this as a teaching tool, not sweep it under the rug because it makes us uncomfortable.  When we begin to change literature because it was written in the vernacular of the time we find ourselves on a "slippery slope" of censorship.  When we rewrite to lessen the impact we also dilute the lesson of tolerance.

ichabod | Student

Removing the N-word from Huckleberry Finn is a great disservice to those who were once so casually forced to suffer the insult. How could it ever be regarded as justice to pretend that a gross injustice did not take place?

If Twain’s use of the N-word in Huck Finn added insult to an already injured peoples then maybe, and just maybe, we could enter into a discussion about the need for censorship. However, Twain clearly uses the word as a vehicle to educate, not exploit.  To consider that the use of the N-word in Huck Finn brings greater judgment on the society that fostered its use rather than those subjected to it, is to wonder who benefits the most when the word is removed from the text - the victims of this historical crime, or the perpetrators of it.

America still suffers the growing pains of racial inequality and bigotry; how will we chart our course through these troubled waters without knowledge of where we’ve been?  We must NOT forget. We must not censor our unpleasant past. Mark Twain himself said, "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." While the N-Word is certainly a mouthful, the censors of Huckleberry Finn are the one's who've bitten off more than they can chew.


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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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