Wiping N-Word From Huck Finn Just Doesn't Work
Cord Jefferson outlines three reasons why a replacement doesn't work
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2011 11:05 AM CST
Updated Jan 5, 2011 1:58 PM CST
Cover of the book 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade)' by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), 1884.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – A new, school-friendly edition of Huck Finn is set to be published sans its 219 instances of the word "nigger." Writing for Good, Cord Jefferson calls the censorship "silly," and argues that inserting "slave" as a "one-size-fits-all remedy" for "nigger" actually doesn't work. Here's why:

  • The book uses the n-word to refer to a free black man ("I run across a boy walking, and asked him if he’d seen a strange slave dressed so and so..."). Observes Jefferson, "it’s possible they were never slaves."

  • When racists use it to express their racism, "slave" just doesn't convey the same thing. Jefferson points to a rant from Huck's dad: "...before it can take a-hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free slave."
  • When Mark Twain's black characters use the word, "it’s a literary device showing how they’ve internalized and adopted their own denigration. When black characters call themselves 'slaves,' it’s merely a statement of fact." To wit, a passage in which Jim talks about starting a bank: "You know that one-laigged slave dat b’longs to old Misto Bradish?"
Click to read the very appropriate Twain quote that Jefferson closes with.

 

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