The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 16, No 2 (2012)

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Old Jim Won’t Be a N*gger No More: Ramifications of Using Censored Versions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the Classroom

Amanda von der Lohe

Abstract


Huckleberry Finn is frequently cited as one of the most censored books in American literature for offensive language and racism. This often results in schools banning the book from their curriculum. In 2011, Twain scholar Alan Gribben attempted to make the novel more appropriate for school-aged readers by publishing an edited version with NewSouth Books, in which the offensive term “nigger,” now often euphemistically labeled “the N-word,” is replaced with the term “slave.” Ironically, this “more appropriate” version also outraged Americans. While many have complained about both the censored and the original version, given the relatively recent nature of NewSouth’s publication, few have analyzed the text itself for the specific effects of replacing the N-word and how students could (mis)interpret the text. In particular, changing the term to “slave” does more than offend a classic: it deprives students of an authentic experience by significantly altering characters and inaccurately depicting an American culture, thus making NewSouth’s edition problematic for classroom discussion. Huckleberry Finn is frequently cited as one of the most censored books in American literature for offensive language and racism. This often results in schools banning the book from their curriculum. In 2011, Twain scholar Alan Gribben attempted to make the novel more appropriate for school-aged readers by publishing an edited version with NewSouth Books in which “the N-word” is replaced with the term “slave.” Ironically, this “more appropriate” version also outraged Americans.

While many have complained about both the censored and the original version, given the relatively recent nature of NewSouth’s publication, few have analyzed the text itself for the specific effects of replacing the N-word and how students could (mis)interpret the text. Changing the term to “slave” does more than offend a classic; it deprives students of an authentic experience by significantly altering characters and inaccurately depicting an American culture, thus making NewSouth’s edition problematic for classroom discussion.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680