A new, school-friendly edition of Huck Finn is set to be published sans its 219 instances of the word "n-----." Writing for Good, Cord Jefferson calls the censorship "silly," and argues that inserting "slave" as a "one-size-fits-all remedy" for "n-----" 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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