Cutting common sense in Twain 

IN AN IDEAL, perfect world, the n-word would never be uttered or written by anyone. I certainly don't want anything to do with it, which is why I won't write it in full here.

But of all places in our real, unperfect world to remove the n-word from, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is quite literally the last one that should come to mind.

The publishing company NewSouth Books will soon release an edition of the classic which replaces the 219 uses in dialogue of the n-word with the word "slave" -- huge improvement, eh? -- as well as replacing "Injun" with Indian.

The biggest problem here isn't just the misguided censorship of an American classic in the public domain, which by definition shouldn't be subject to any censorship of any kind by anyone, period, end of story.

The biggest problem is the fact that the entire point of the book is to fight racism and inequality. The use of the n-word is, of course, ironic, as well as absolutely integral to the novel.

In a classic case of political correctness missing the forest for the trees -- or throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or whatever metaphor you prefer -- removing the n-word from Huckleberry Finn plays into exactly the kind of narrow-mindedness and civic malpractice that the author intended the work to fight in the first place.

Oh, I understand the motivation behind the censorship, believe me I do. Much like witchcraft in the 1600s, these days racism is both the most damaging charge that can be leveled against you and the one for which the least proof is needed to convict you in the court of public opinion.

This is how bad it's gotten: Roger Ebert -- who is, appropriately enough in a column about Mark Twain, one of America's finest living social commentators as well as our best living film critic -- got into a lot of trouble recently over the Huck Finn controversy.

In opposition to the censorship and the edited version, Ebert Tweeted: "I'd rather be a n#### than a slave."

(Except he spelled the n-word out in full.)

Ebert, usually not one to give up a fight easily, quickly bowed to the inevitable and apologized in a subsequent Tweet: "I'll never be called a n#### or a slave so I guess I better shut the **** up."

(Interestingly, he again spelled the n-word out in full, but used asterisks for the f-word. See how that works? See the priorities in action?)

The ridiculous thing here is not only the Bizarroworld controversy of removing a reference to racism in a book intended to fight racism, but the fact that Ebert is a self-proclaimed liberal who throughout his print and broadcast career has always kept his progressive values both intact and out-front, often when it was distinctly unpopular for him to do so.

Not to mention that Roger Ebert is married to a black woman.

No matter. The use of the n-word in a Tweet decrying the censorship of the n-word from a book which used the n-word specifically to satirize and marginalize people who use the n-word was enough to get him pilloried.

(I'll avoid going into the obvious hypocrisy involved in the n-word being perfectly fine to use, even desirable, if you're a rapper. It's a tired debate and one with zero upside to engage in here.)

This is what happens in a dumbed-down world where political correctness is more important than moral correctness, where appearance is more important than intention, where there's no money left for basic civics classes, where creative irony tries desperately to survive in a ruthlessly post-ironic society.

Perhaps the saddest part about all this is that the publisher is probably correct, in the most cynical sense, to issue the new version. Huckleberry Finn is currently the fourth most-banned book from American libraries and schools precisely because it contains the n-word.

In the end, this misguided new edited version will, despite the abomination of its mere existence, likely expose more young Americans to this American classic.

We had to kill the great American novel in order to save it.

It's enough to make you want to climb on a raft and just float down a lazy river, but even that's not safe anymore.





About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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