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The Debate About 'Huck Finn' and the N-word
Dear Larry: I want you to comment on the controversy about Mark Twain's book "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." There is an effort to change some of the language in the book to make it more palatable to 21st-century readers, given today's sensitivity to the N-word.
I am a 32-year-old white father of a girl in grammar school. I have taught her never to use the N-word in any conversation, regardless of the reason. I also told her not to use the word even if the teachers say it is all right. The use of Mark Twain's book makes me uneasy because of the many times that word is used.
But I am also uneasy with tampering with books. I can see how changing books to make them fit particular points of view is dangerous. Depending upon who happens to be in charge, it would be possible to change books from history to give any meaning the ruling power would want them to have. Once you start changing books, there is no telling where it can and will lead.
I am at a loss as to how I feel about this subject because I see both sides. I agree that the N-word should be shielded from impressionable minds, and I see the danger in changing books.
I would appreciate some thinking to help me grapple with this conundrum. — Beaver
Dear Beaver: "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," written by Mark Twain in the 1880s, is a story that uses the N-word 219 times. It is a children's classic, but as you say, it is becoming increasingly difficult to use while remaining politically sensitive. The rewriters are trying to keep it a children's classic in today's environment to be kind to all ethnicities.
I believe there is more to this than simply updating a story.
This same rebel, who championed the black man, is now considered a racist by many. By today's standard, no one but a racist could use the N-word that many times. This mix of emotions makes Mark Twain lovers very unhappy.
There are many papers, essays and dissertations on whether Mark Twain was a racist. It didn't start recently; even Mark Twain responded to this charge. He said: "I am quite sure that ... I have no race prejudices (or) creed prejudices. ... All that I care to know is that a man is a human being."
In my opinion, Mark Twain was a complex and evolving person, like all of us. He was more enlightened than his contemporaries but pales to today's standards. It is wrong to change his writings, even for little minds and readers.
I further believe that children should not read his books until they are old enough to understand why people can be good on one hand and not so good on the other. Children must be old enough to know and understand how we can have heroes who have traits and behaviors that by today's standards are not acceptable.
For example, Woodrow Wilson championed the League of Nations and equality around the world yet didn't want blacks and whites together. He segregated Washington, D.C. He was wrong on one hand but did good things with the other.
It takes an understanding mind to understand this. Too many people have an all-or-nothing attitude about racial issues. We must allow for an abundance of gray to color our thoughts.
To find out more about Larry G. Meeks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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