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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who Thinks White-Washing Mark Twain Is a Good Idea?

Posted by Dave Bow on Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Gawker reported today on Auburn University professor Alan Gribben's plan to release a new version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where the words "nigger" and "Injun" are replaced by the words "slave" and "Indian", respectively.

Lets pretend this didnt happen
  • Let's pretend this didn't happen

Lord knows the "Mark Twain is a racist" debate is older than dirt (and usually propagated by people who read Huck Finn and somehow missed its central message), but Gribben sees this as a way to make the books more "accessible" to the Now Generation of the 21st century:

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he's spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with "slave" when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the "n" word ("My mother said it's only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people") and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. "My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it."

I don't want to spell out the many reasons why I hate this idea and Gribben's argument for it. I thought most professors would agree that treating children (whether they have black friends or not) like delicate flowers who need protection from history is offensive and wrong-headed; the kind of thing that turns smart children into dumb adults. BUT now I'm curious: is there anyone else that thinks this is a good idea? Would softening these books get more kids to read them and discover the actual story behind the words? Would a sneaky villain named Native American Joe really be less offensive?

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