Sunday, January 9, 2011

Censoring Huckleberry Finn

By now many have already become aware of the new edition of Huckleberry Finn that will be replacing two words from the original text. The author of the text, a Mark Twain scholar, has argued that he is doing this to make the book more accessible to younger children in schools, and that some teachers and librarians have noted that they cannot teach the book because of those words. One can assume that parents or other people have complained about the words in the book.

This is censorship. The problem with this is that it is replacing two very powerful words, which is going to affect the impact that the book has, especially on younger readers. This is the way people spoke in Mark Twain's time, he is trying to send a message of how harsh life was and how people spoke and were spoken to during his time. By using different words, people's perception of the times will be affected. Children might come to think that "hey, it really wasn't that bad, I don't know what the big deal is" or something similar. Changing these words is like changing history. Even if a person reads the original work later on, if they have already read the edited version, it will lessen the impact that it would have had had they read the original work to begin with.

We cannot just go into books (or into history) and edit, especially edit in parts where they have the most impact, where their message is strongest. What if I were to say, hey, the realities of slavery are just too offensive or too harsh for some people to hear, so when I discuss it I will just say "workers" instead of "slaves." It is not the same, and it never will be.

Some of the best arguments I have heard are as follows:

It would be best if children were left alone to read the original work on their own when they are ready, than to have them read this edited version that will not have the same impact.

And, when did we allow this to happen? That teachers and librarians cannot teach a book because of opposition, even when that book holds historical and literary significance?

History can be good and it can be hard. But we cannot just edit the harsh parts and have people, especially young readers who are developing their view of the world, believe that it was not that bad. Sometimes it was, and that is something we all need to know, especially because it will affect the present and the future.

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