Publisher Announces Intention to Edit Huckleberry Finn To Remove N-Word

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are widely viewed as an American classic. However, the editors of NewSouth Books have decided that they need to do some editing. The editors have decided to remove the “n” word from the book and replace it with “slave.” The editing of a classic raises very troubling questions from the right of an author to have his works remain unchanged to the integrity of literary and historical works. Like all great works, the book must be read with an understanding of the mores and lexicon of its time.

This offense against the original work is being lead by Alan Gribben, who insists that he is merely updating the work. Classic works, however, do not need updating. Gribben decision to improve on Twain’s work for contemporary readers is a breathtaking act of hubris. A vast array of classic and contemporary works use the n-word and other offensive language. If Gribben wants a work without offensive language, he should write The Adventures of Alan Gribben.

Gribben appears to think the following quote from Huckleberry Finn was something of an invitation by Twain:

“Please take it,” says I, “and don’t ask me nothing – then I won’t have to tell no lies.”

Replacing this word with “slave” can change the meaning and certainly the intent of Twain. Consider the following line:

“Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger slave there from Ohio – a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see…

The difference may be subtle but Twain clearly could have used slave. The word existed at the time. Twain chose the n-word to convey something beyond captive status. It was a word used widely. It is still used in literary works to say something about the people who use it.

Other authors like William Faulkner used this word in capturing the culture of the South. Consider the following passage from Go Down, Moses (1940):

This delta, he thought: This Delta. This land which man has deswamped and denuded and derivered in two generations so that white men can own plantations and commute every night to Memphis and black men own plantations and ride in jim crow cars to Chicago to live in millionaires’ mansions on Lakeshore Drive, where white men rent farms and live like niggers and niggers crop on shares and live like animals, where cotton is planted and grows man-tall in the very cracks of the sidewalks, and ursury and mortgage and bankcruptcy and measureless wealth, Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which is which nor cares…. No wonder the ruined woods I used to know don’t cry for retribution! He thought: The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge.

Would we rewrite Faulkner as well? How about all of the modern movies and books using this term as part of modern urban speech? Authors write to capture characters who are often racist or living in racist times. This publisher may billed itself as the “NewSouth” but this book was written about the Old South. To sanitize history or literature is an act of violence against the artistic work of these authors.

I find the editing of a great literary work to be nothing short of shameful and shocking, but views can differ on such a question. I would be interested in the views of others on the blog.

Source: EW and Reddit

Jonathan Turley

140 thoughts on “Publisher Announces Intention to Edit Huckleberry Finn To Remove N-Word”

  1. “The book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book,” said Cindy Lovell, executive director of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

    “He wrote to make us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the purpose,” she told Reuters news agency.

    The novel has often been criticised for its language and characterisations and it is reported to be the fourth most banned book in US schools.

    The “N-word” appears 219 times in the story.

    Professor Gribben, who teaches English at Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama, said he had given many public readings of Twain’s books – and that when he replaced the word with “slave”, audiences were more comfortable.
    Continue reading the main story

    He said he wanted more people, especially younger people, to be encouraged to read the novel.

    “It’s such a shame that one word should be a barrier between a marvellous reading experience and a lot of readers,” he said.

    But the idea has been condemned by other scholars, teachers, writers and rights activists.

    “Trying to erase the word from our culture is profoundly, profoundly wrong,” said Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor.

    Dr Sarah Churchwell, a lecturer on American literature, told the BBC that it made a mockery of the story.

    “It’s about a boy growing up a racist in a racist society who learns to reject that racism, and it makes no sense if the book isn’t racist,” she told BBC World Service’s Newshour programme. “You can’t make the history of racism in America go away.”

    Power of words

    Twain himself was very particular about his words.

    He is quoted as saying that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter”.

    And when a printer made punctuation changes to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Twain wrote later that he had “given orders for the typesetter to be shot without giving him time to pray”.

  2. Elaine M.:Welcome back.

    “Elaine M. 1, January 5, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    IMO, no one has the right to change the words of an author. Twain wrote a book that reflected the times in which the story was set. Are we supposed to accept the sanitization of great works of literature because they make some people feel uncomfortable? ”

    From my above post,check out the link:

    ‘eniobob 1, January 6, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Why the n-word should stay in ‘Huck Finn’

    By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

    8:31 AM on 01/05/2011″

  3. You’ve lost me there Brian.

    Guess that’s why you have a PHd and I don’t.

    My comment was a light hearted one – a dig at the “politically correct”.

    It may be that this is my British sense of humour and may be lost on you, not translating as such so well on a written blog as it would do as speach.

    Out of interest, do you find your condition effects how you see humour?

  4. Left something out that I had intended to include.

    I recall a comment about my using the “dah-dit_word” as though for shock value. I had no such intent, for neither words nor their meanings shock or offend me. People do not offend me. People’s actions do not offend me. Words, meanings, and actions come with being a living human. Why would being human shock me?

    I do know what it is to experience shock. I was four, we lived on Ferdinand Street, in Seattle. In the living room was a floor lamp, three 60 Watt individual Edison-base bulbs and a top-center “3-way” 100-200-300 Watt Mogul-base bulb. That floor lamp, with wiring and plug replaced, is our main living room reading lamp, but with compact fluorescent replacements for the original incandescent bulbs.

    One day, I contemplated electricity, having read about it in a thin book done by the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I decided to learn about electrical plugs, and pulled on the plug to see if it would come loose.

    Whoever wired the plug, however, had not installed the plug according to proper wiring standards. There was no Underwriter’s knot to serve as a strain-relief, and the screws were not tightened according to established torque standards. My fingers slipped off the plug body and onto the cord, and the cord pulled out of the plug. The wires had been stripped bare for almost twice the proper distance, so bare wires touched my fingers before they fully disconnected from the metal parts of the plug.

    I know what a shock is.

    I do not use words with the intent that they shock people.

  5. RE: Maaarrghk! comment of January 6, 2011 at 1:48 am, to wit:


    Can some of you please stop using the term “n word”.

    I find it offensive.”

    Were I capable of being offended by other people, other people’s beliefs, other people’s actions, or how some other people act as though to treat me as though I were more evil than infinitely more evil than all the evil that would be possible to imagine, and I am incapable of being offended because I was given, as practical way of moment-by-moment living, to forgive every trace of what might be deemed wrongdoing that ever comes into my awareness, I would not believe or act as I do.

    I do not deceive people. Yet I find myself in a world in which all human languages I have learned anything about appear to me, and perhaps to no one else, to share a common property. That property is as though language has the property of giving people no way to other than misunderstand one another as each person misunderstands self.

    Were I to have the talent of being offendable, and further to have the talent of being able to be offended by words, among the most offensive words I would find I have ever experienced, offensive infinitudes beyone utterly unconscionable, would be the word “n-word.” Among all words I remember right now, the word, ‘n-word” tops my list of words I would deem offensive were I able to find any offensive words whatsoever.

    So, being familiar with Morse Code (took the 13 word per minute code test before an FCC field engineer in the Dirksen building n Chicago in 1962), I can be even more offensive to those who are offensively offendable, because I shall name said word the “dah-dit_word” and we can enhance our denial of abuse, terror, hatefulness and societal destruction even more than before. Only, you will have to leave me out of that sort of society.

    I shall use, out of consideration for the deceived, “dah-dit_word” because I am sensitive to the concerns of other people. I apologize for being autistic, I apologize for having been sperm and egg and they a zygote. I apologize for undertaking the first cell division and then committing the social atrocity of becoming a blastula.

    I apologize for keeping the hollow, fluid-filled interior of my blastula stage in the form of cerebral ventricles, and I apologize for that because keeping hollow, fluid-filled spaces from when I was a hollow blastula led to my having the brain I have, profoundly defective as I allow it is.

    What is my brain defect? It is simple. The brain cells needed for me to criticize and find fault with people were supposed to divide from other cells along the way, but that one, absolutely critical cell division is as though it never happened. Part of my brain is obviously missing, the “find fault with people” cells, having never formed through normal cell division, are, in my horridly defective brain, a hollow, fluid filled space bereft of neurons, synapses, and connections.

    I have within my collected medical records the observation of my having “enlarged ventricles” as found with computerized axial tomography. For real. No joke.

    I have a quantitative electroencephalogram printout which can be rather well summarized in but a few words, “markedly abnormal spatial incoherence.” I am not the only person to show up on this planet with brain parts missing. The late Kim Peek, on whose life the movie, “Rain Man” was partly based, came to birth with agenesis of the corpus callosum. In this world, I am not alone in having a brain which statistical measures of central tendency may lead people who have all the usual brain structures to deem worse than cancer.

    There are people who are rather like me, from time to time I meet such a person. The rate is in the range of one in a thousand. Such a person is typically an electronics engineer who has done successful “RF design.”

    I ask questions, because I know not how to not ask. One question I have asked, in an attempt to use language others believe can be understood, “What is the square root of 4?” This question stops perhaps a third the adults I have asked, who ponder it for a while, and tell me they don’t know.

    The successful RF design engineers seem always to tell me, in effect, “I cannot answer that question; no one can!” They have the mathematics correct. Almost everyone else says, “Two,” which is wrong, as people sufficiently skilled at mathematics know and understand.

    The reason it is impossible to answer, “What is the square root of 4,” is because of a fallacy inherent in so asking, to wit, the notion that any number has a (meaning exactly one) square root. Every actual number has exactly two square roots, asking a false question is of deception.

    Two square roots? I obviously need a better mathematics teacher…

    Only, the question as to whether there are two square roots of actual numbers, and not only one, is a testable, in-principle-refutable hypothesis. And the evidence is thus:

    In base 10 arithmetic, 2 times 2 equals 4. Alas, there are actual negative numbers, so, for clarity I shall restate that equation. “Positive 2” times “Positive 2” equals “Positive 4”.

    Run, Run, here comes the Brian. What about the following equation, “Negative 2” times “Negative 2” equals “Positive 4”? That math works for me. How about you?

    Oh, Oh, Run, run, here comes the Brian with the missing brain parts. Every actual number has two square roots. “Negative 4” is an actual number, what are its two square roots?

    All the successful RF electronics engineers answer correctly, without, to me, observable delay. So have all the college math majors I have ever asked. Yet many Ph.D. level people who avoided science and mathematics better than any plague, have as though stopped in their tracks. People who as though hold in contempt hard science and mathematics typically tell me that “Negtive 4” has no square roots.

    But there may be a contrast between something existing and a particular person or group of persons being aware of the existence of said something. When people believe that their unawareness of something which exists means that the something which exists does not exist because it does not exist in their reality-model, I start to conjecture about the possibility of existence being greater than any possible human mental model of existence, and I fall, topsy-turvey, into the bottomless horror of existential philosophy.

    Perhaps a simpler mathematics problem would be useful. What are the square roots of “Negative 1”? Suppose I make a guess: “Negative 1” times “Positive 1” equals “Negative 1” and the answer is simple; or is it? Remember your Montessori School number line? “Negative 1” and “Positive 1” are separated by “Negative 2” or by “Positive 2,” depending in which way along the number line you happen to be hiking.

    The square root of a number is that number, which, multiplied by itself, equals its square. Sorry, “Negative 1” ain’t “Positive 1” – oops!

    I arrived in this world with another brain defect, sometimes named “imagination.” Unlike “normal people,” I never outgrew imagination.

    Neither did some mathematicians, who imagined the square root of “Negative 1” to be as real a number as any other number, and needed to give it a name. Having imagined a name, the name given was “imaginary.” Alas, imagination is real; albeit not all that may be imagined may ever be real because it is possible to imagine what is impossible, and, with imagination, to confuse or interchange, only in imagination, what is real and what is unreal. So, I must be unreal?

    Among us electrical engineer idiots, lower case “j” became the symbol often used for the square root of “Negative 1” – such that “Positive j” times “Positive j” equals “Negative 1” and the problem of imagining the two square roots of “Negative 1” is solved with one more equation, to wit, “Negative j” times “Negative j” equals “Negative 1”

    So, “Positive 2j” times “Positive 2j” equals “Negative 4” and “Negative 2j” times “Negative 2j” equals “Negative 4” and so the square roots of “Negative 4” are “Positive 2j” and “Negative 2j”…

    Changing the name of something named changes not the something named. Electrical engineers had assigned lower case “i” as the symbol for electrical current, as in Ohm’s Law, where “Voltage” equals “current” times “resistance, or in symbolic form, e=i*r.

    Mathematicians not working professionally with electrical current happily used lower case “i” as their symbol for the positive square root of “Negative 1″…

    I freely admit to having done, and apologize for doing another silly bit of pedantic pedagogy. What of the story of the educator who was fired as a pervert for using the word “pedagogy”?

    Everyone on this blawg already knew of the j-operator as an aspect of applied mathematical laws? Sorry, before I was nine, I did not know much about it; but I am an autistic slow-learner.

    The meaning of “n-word” is the meaning of “dah-dit_word” is the meaning of “nigger” in my brain. By what right would I accord someone else the right to steal my life from me by turning a term of endearment into something forbidden.

    In my mind, in my brain, the word, “nigger” is applicable to such people as, when treated with derision, lynchings, utter contempt, and atrocities far worse, respond with forgiveness and decency.

    Of course, those who treat other people with derision, lynchings, utter contempt, and atrocities far worse may resent forgiveness and decency, else they, too, would act with forgiveness and decency.

    I came not into this world for my life to be stolen.

  6. Someone mentioned the “Kings’s Speech”. It did not merit the “R” rating as the use of the f word was part of the therapy. It is an excellent movie for those under 17 and everyone else also.[youtube=]

  7. While we’re on the subject of literature–did any of you hear Michael Steele’s response when asked what his favorite book was at a recent RNC event?


  8. Why the n-word should stay in ‘Huck Finn’

    By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

    8:31 AM on 01/05/2011

    “New South Books press people had barely sent word out that the editors would remove any mention of the n-word from their upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s immortal classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when the backlash began. Critics are calling it censorship, a slap at freedom of speech, and a gross distortion of Twain’s intent. Twain’s goal was to show the ugliness an evilness of slavery and to do that he had to use the rawest racist language of his day. This guaranteed that the book and the language he used would sooner or later draw anger and protests. It’s certainly had its colossal share of both over the years.”

  9. Yelling at the Nurses?

    Oh well, it’s a start.

    Just wait till he starts CHASING the Nurses.

    Then you’ll know he’s on the mend!

  10. Elaine M.,

    Missed the poem — great addition to the thread. Off to work.


    What??? He’s yelling at the nurses??? 🙂


    As Rich O, said, early in the thread: “You leave the author’s words alone.”

  11. Blouise,

    Long work day ahead of me. While I was snoozin’, this thread was hoppin’…

    I’m very sorry to hear about your husband. Will e-mail…

  12. Elaine M.


    I find it troubling that a school librarian would be in favor of censoring a work of literature. It think it would be better if you spoke out and defended the use of “Huckleberry Finn” in the schools as it was written by Twain.


    Hear, hear. (Welcome back.)

  13. Blouise

    I hope your husband is doing better. And I hope you got some sleep.

    Elaine M.

    You’ve been missed and that’s a very telling poem.

  14. HenMan,

    Thanks … as you can tell by the hour of this post, I’m having difficulty getting to sleep.

  15. Anyway.

    Can some of you please stop using the term “n word”.

    I find it offensive.

Comments are closed.