Morality is subjective

Replacing “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may be aware that there’s a new controversy brewing when a specific book press decided to replace the word “nigger” with the word “slave” in its new printing of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.  It’s ridiculous to edit classic literature out of some ignorant fear of actually exposing children to the attitudes and environments that were present in our past, and still unfortunately prevalent today.

In addition to being upset at this type of censorship, I’m also frustrated with the choice that “nigger” and “slave” are interchangeable.  They are not, and I think it harms the literature and the impression on children to presume otherwise.  If you really want to sanitize Huckleberry Finn for children, choose another word, depending on the context in which the original word is used.

In the interest of protecting our children, I’ve decided to offer my censorship services by revising the following sections of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, replacing the word “nigger” appropriately:

Page 24:

As soon as Tom was back, we cut along the path, around the garden fence, and by-and-by fetched up on the steep top of the hill the other side of the house. Tom said he slipped Jim’s hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over him, and Jim stirred a little, but he didn’t wake. Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the State, and then set him under the trees again and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans, and after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by-and-by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other bloggers. Bloggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any blogger in that country.

Strange bloggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Bloggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, “Hm! What you know ’bout witches?” and that blogger was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece around his neck with a string and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to, just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it.

Bloggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn’t touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined, for a servant, because he got so stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.

Page 50:

“Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free liberal there, from Ohio; a mulatto, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat ; and there ain’t a man in that town that’s got as fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane the awfulest old gray-headed nabob in the State. And what do you think? they said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust.

They said he could vote, when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ‘lection day, and I was just about to go and vote, myself, if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that liberal vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin. Them’s the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me I’ll never vote agin as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that liberal why, he wouldn’t a give me the road if I hadn’t shoved him out o’ the way. I says to the people, why ain’t this liberal put up at auction and sold? that’s what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why, they said he couldn’t be sold till he’d been in the State six months, and he hadn’t been there that long yet.

There, now that’s a specimen. They call that a govment that can’t sell a free liberal till he’s been in the State six months. Here’s a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet’s got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take ahold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free liberal.”

Page 72:

“Yes. You know dat one-laigged stockbroker dat b’longs to old Misto Bradish? Well, he sot up a bank, en say anybody dat put in a dollar would git fo’ dollars mo’ at de en’ er de year. Well, all de stockbrokers went in, but dey didu’ have much. I wuz de on’y one dat had much. So I stuck out for mo’ dan fo’ dollars, en I said ‘f I didn’ git it I’d start a bank mysef. Well o’ course dat stockbroker want’ to keep me out er de business, bekase he say dey warn’t business ‘nough for two banks, so he say I could put in my five dollars en he pay me thirty-five at de en’ er de year.

So I done it. Den I reck’n’d I’d inves’ de thirty- five dollars right off en keep things a-movin’. Dey wuz a stockbroker name’ Bob, dat had ketched a wood-flat, en his marster didn’ know it; en I bought it off’n him en told him to take de thirty-five dollars when de en’ er de year come; but somebody stole de wood-flat dat night, en nex’ day de one-laigged stockbroker say de bank’s busted. So dey didn’ none uv us git no money.”

“What did you do with the ten cents, Jim?”

“Well, I ‘uz gwyne to spen’ it, but I had a dream, en de dream tole me to give it to a stockbroker name’ Balum Balum’s Ass dey call him for short, he’s one er dem chuckle-heads, you know. But he’s lucky, dey say, en I see I warn’t lucky. De dream say let Balum inves’ de ten cents en he’d make a raise for me. Well, Balum he tuck de money, en when he wuz in church he hear de preacher say dat whoever give to de po’ len’ to de Lord, en boun’ to git his” money back a hund’d times. So Balum he tuck en give de ten cents to de po,’ en laid low to see what wuz gwyne to come of it.”

Page 201:

He was a mighty good pussy-eater, Jim was.

Page 228:

“Because Mary Jane’ll be in mourning from this out; and first you know the Mexican that does up the rooms will get an order to box these duds up and put ’em away; and do you reckon a Mexican can run across money and not borrow some of it?”

Page 234:

So the next day after the funeral, along about noontime, the girls’ joy got the first jolt; a couple of Silly Bandz traders come along, and the king sold them the Silly Bandz reasonable, for three-day drafts as they called it, and away they went, the two sons up the river to Memphis, and their mother down the river to Orleans. I thought them poor girls and them Silly Bandz would break their hearts for grief; they cried around each other, and took on so it most made me down sick to see it. The girls said they hadn’t ever dreamed of seeing the family separated or sold away from the town. I can’t ever get it out of my memory, the sight of them poor miserable girls and Silly Bandz hanging around each other’s necks and crying; and I reckon I couldn’t a stood it all but would a had to bust out and tell on our gang if I hadn’t knowed the sale warn’t no account and the Silly Bandz would be back home in a week or two.

Page 236:

“Don’t ever tell me any more that Ke$ha ain’t got any histrionic talent. Why, the way they played that thing, it would fool anybody. In my opinion there’s a fortune in ’em. If I had capital and a theatre, I wouldn’t want a better lay out than that and here we’ve gone and sold ’em for a song. Yes, and ain’t privileged to sing the song, yet. Say, where is that song? that draft.”

Page 243:

“Just let the auction go right along, and don’t worry. Nobody don’t have to pay for the things they buy till a whole day after the auction, on accounts of the short notice, and they ain’t going out of this till they get that money and the way we’ve fixed it the sale ain’t going to count, and they ain’t going to get no money. It’s just like the way it was with the foreclosures it warn’t no sale, and the foreclosures will be back before long. Why, they can’t collect the money for the foreclosures, yet they’re in the worst kind of a fix, Miss Mary.”

Page 273:

“I wouldn’t shake my baby, would I? The only baby I had in the world, and the only property. We never thought of that. Fact is, I reckon we’d come to consider him our baby.”

Page 358:

“…so I says, I got to have help, somehow; and the minute I says it, out crawls this ninja from somewheres, and says he’ll help, and he done it, too, and done it very well. Of course I judged he must be a runaway ninja, and there I was! And there I had to stick, right straight along all the rest of the day, and all night. It was a fix, I tell you! I had a couple of patients with the chills, and of course I’d of liked to run up to town and see them, but I dasn’t, because the ninja might get away, and then I’d be to blame; and yet never a skiff come close enough for me to hail.

So there I had to stick, plumb till daylight this morning; and I never see a ninja that was a better nuss or faithfuller, and yet he was risking his freedom to do it, and was all tired out, too, and I see plain enough he’d been worked main hard, lately. I liked the ninja for that; I tell you, gentlemen, a ninja like that is worth a thousand dollars and kind treatment, too. I had everything I needed, and the boy was doing as well there as he would a done at home better, maybe, because it was so quiet; but there I was, with both of ‘m on my hands; and there I had to stick, till about dawn this morning; then some men in a skiff come by, and as good luck would have it, the ninja was setting by the pallet with his head propped on his knees, sound asleep; so I motioned them in, quiet, and they slipped up on him and grabbed him and tied him before he knowed what he was about, and we never had no trouble.

And the boy being in a kind of a flighty sleep, too, we muffled the oars and hitched the raft on, and towed her over very nice and quiet, and the ninja never made the least row nor said a word, from the start.’ He ain’t no bad ninja, gentlemen; that’s what I think about him.”

Now that’s some quality literature.

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73 Replies to “Replacing “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn”

  1. Maddie Marie

    i think it’s important to acknowledge our history and where we came from. changing the text in a book won’t change the fact that the “n” word was once used. it’s ridiculous to change the book. ridiculous!

  2. Dre

    Thank you, Adam. Here I was, thinking I knew all there was to know about the characters in Huck Finn, only to learn right now this very minute that Jim was a good pussy-eater. I’ll sleep well tonight!

  3. Loukia

    It is so, so wrong, on so many levels, to change any word(s) in classic literature. Changing a word doesn’t make it not true. Gah! This infuriates me! Maybe next they’ll change Mein Kampf to portray Hitler as a nice man, taking out any words that have any hateful connotation, changing his political ideology to one of peace, love and happiness!

  4. Capricorn Cringe

    While you’re at it, would you mind correcting all the grammar issues? I know it’s dialog and that it is true to the way they spoke, but kids won’t learn nothin proper if they read them words.

    Also? Mark Twain just rolled over in his grave. At the controversy, not at this post. I bet he would have liked this 🙂

  5. Grant

    For the children’s sake, I think the term “Avitable” needs to be scoured from the net and replaced with “Yuri Ebihara”. Especially the pictures in the sidebar of this blog. Get on that.

      • Zoeyjane

        @Avitable, but it sets a precedent. The fact that the book’s been banned how many times is bad enough. And now, it’s okay – in some part of the populations’s eyes – to not only censor it, but to basically reconstruct its historical meaning… it’s touchy for me. If this spreads, and I know I’m being grandiose, the potential is disastrous to our memory of ‘how things used to be’.

  6. Absurdist

    Leave it to me to be serious for a second but….

    As I understand it, mulatto is a “bad word” nowadays too. So what the fuck? Are we not going to take that one out either?

    And what are we calling mulatto kids now? Mocha? Capucchino? I’m opaque.

    For fuck’s sake parents. I wonder how many people know exactly WHERE nigger came from anyway.

    My aunt is a prof down here in Mexico (where I now live). I was giving a presentation at my second English week there. They asked me, “Is Geez a takeoff of Jesus?” You know how religious they are here.

    We just said, “Uh, well, let’s just say you could get away with it in the states – most kids nowadays have no idea where it came from.”

    Me? I’m a fucking cracker. I’m a fucking clear cracker. An opaque cracker who burns within 10 minutes in the sun.

    And down here in Mexico, Mexicans are terribly offended if you DON’T call them Mexicans.

    Oh, and guess what? They call their OWN PEOPLE who cross the border wetbacks, and it’s not even a BAD WORD!!!

    I love Mexico. Nothing is sacred down here. There is no “political correctness”.

      • Absurdist

        @Avitable, now see, you say, “…though none as bad, I’ll say.”

        Let’s talk about the history of the word.

        1. Negro.
        2. Southerners who have an horrific accent.
        3. Negro becomes “Negra”
        4. Over time, “Negra” becomes “Nigger”

        No. In truth, it’s not a “bad word”. It’s a mispronounced word derived from a poor accent.

        It became a bad word because of the connotation over time.

        That is what needs to be taught.

        No word, in and of itself, is bad. It is the misuse, tone and connotation of the word that gives meaning to it.

        We must teach our children through Socratic methods so that we instill the ability for insight and creative and independent thought rather than calling words “bad” just because society dictates it so.

        Education is our dearest friend with respect to thes

  7. Tara R.

    A few years ago, a local high school drama dept. wanted to present the play ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Same sort of issue. The grumps wanted to remove the same word from the dialogue. After weeks of debate (many of the school board members hadn’t even read the book, only had a knee-jerk reaction to complaints, so had no idea what the context was) the students were eventually allowed to perform the play, as written.

    You can’t attempt to sanitize history and honestly believe it will have any effect on the present.

  8. Megan

    *sigh* People just irritate the crap out of me sometimes. Where are those with common sense when all of this is going on.

    In other news, I’d forgotten how much n- was used in this book. Ick.

  9. Faiqa

    “I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me ninja.”
    – Muhammad Ali

    “That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a “house stockbroker.” And that’s what we call them today, because we’ve still got some house stockbrokers running around here.” -Malcolm X

    “AFRICAN, n. A Silly Bandz that votes our way.” -Ambrose Pierce, 19th century American humorist

    Ke$ha: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word – Randall Kennedy, author

    “Too many brothers daily heading for tha big penn/liberals commin’ out worse off than when they went in” -2Pac, “Trapped”

    When we sanitize our history, we will lose the most significant lessons about who we are.

    These some dumb babies up in here.

  10. The Domestic Goddess

    Santizing history only leads to history repeating itself. While the word itself makes me cringe and is very uncomfortable to hear, I don’t think that taking it out of that book is the answer. Are we going to take the holocaust out of Anne Frank? The word “retarded” out of FLowers for Algernon? I could go on and on with examples. But the point is: Keep it in. When my kid reads this (and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the story of the Underground Railroad) I want him to hear all of it. Every last horrible bit. So he knows.

  11. Katy

    I love you in a completely inappropriate, non future-teacherly way that would get me arrested in 48 states (Arkansas and Mississippi just look the other way at love like mine).

    Wanna have my babies?

  12. martymankins

    Saddens me that they want to change a classic work of literature. Seriously, the mindset of some that want to sanitize a great work just because of a word.

    Although pushing the “blogger” label is not a bad thing, either.

  13. Poppy

    It’s funny, I don’t even remember reading the word “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn as a kid. I guess the school that had me read the book dealt with the topic in such a way that we understood the meaning of the word as well as its context and didn’t let it take over the story like the people who are removing the word are.

    If we change everything to “less offensive” we change the intention of the original work. It’s no longer a classic if it’s modified.

    My two cents.

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