Something's Missing in the Latest Edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer

By Michelle S. Thu, January 6, 2011

This February, publisher NewSouth Books is issuing an updated edition combining two of Mark Twain's classic novels, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Usually, updated editions of classic books include a new editor's introduction or an appendix of critical essays and discussion questions. However, NewSouth Books' new edition of Twain's tales is notable not for what it includes but for what it removes: the "n word."

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Dr. Alan Gribben told the New York Times in a recent article. He's a professor of English at Auburn University and editor of this new edition. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” He cites the novel's removal from many school reading lists as one of his motivations for substituting Twain's use of the "n word" with the word  "slave" and also substituting the word "injun" with "Indian."

What are your thoughts on this "clean" version of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer? Will the altered language encourage more readers to pick them up? Or does this new edition strip Twain’s writing of its 19th century roots and discourage discussion of complicated topics? Let us know in the comments!

Cover image of <i>The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn</i> <br> Penguin Classics edition
Cover image of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Penguin Classics edition

Comments

I think YA author Maureen Johnson made a great point on Twitter. She said, basically, those two words don't mean the same thing. And they don't. Replacing one with the other changes the meaning of every sentence in which it appears, and it does damage, not only to Twain's writing, but also to our ability to correctly understand and critique the historical context of the novel.
Alexandra - Fishtown Mon, January 10, 2011
I think censorship is censorship. no matter what you call it. There are any number of words I find offensive in literature. But if this is a country of free speech, then we have no business changing the author's words for our comfort. Shades of "1984" here!!!
K - NE Philly Mon, January 24, 2011

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