Sanitizing a Classic

Sunny Arbarbanelli alerted me to the latest perversion of current culture: a version of Mark Twain’s famous anti-racism classic, Huckleberry Finn, in which offensive words have been replaced to make the work more “palatable” to current students.

The BBC report says: “‘The book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book,’ said Cindy Lovell, executive director of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

“‘He wrote to make us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the purpose,’ she told Reuters news agency. “

“‘It’s about a boy growing up a racist in a racist society who learns to reject that racism, and it makes no sense if the book isn’t racist,’” said Sarah Churchwell, lecturer on American literature.

What would Twain think? He said “‘the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.’

“And when a printer made punctuation changes to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Twain wrote later that he had ‘given orders for the typesetter to be shot without giving him time to pray’.”

The danger in taking out offensive words is not only in changing the meaning of the work, but in trying to paper over the facts. The fact is, Twain used offensive language, period. We needn’t protect children from that, they need to learn what life was like. They’ll be more aware and informed as a result.

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