Thursday, January 13, 2011

Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Revising the Past

It’s been probably twenty years since I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but still it is probably one of my favorite books of all time. In fact, when I was a kid I had the biggest crush ever on both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. (Oh, to be Becky Thatcher down in that cave with Tom…) I believe this may have stemmed from a school play when I was in around the second grade where the cutest boy in the entire school played Tom Sawyer, and the second cutest boy played Huckleberry Finn. As eighth graders, they were too old for me, and I simply played a townsperson, but still. I was hooked. It didn’t phase me one bit that both Tom and Huck were fictional characters, and I decided at some point that I would gladly accept either one as my boyfriend. I’m not sure how old I was when I first read the books Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but my guess is somewhere around age 10 or so. Even at 10 I was smart enough to realize that they were published in 1876 and 1885, and thus did not necessarily reflect the views of current society.

Apparently I was much smarter than the average kid, because now they are revising both books to remove all references to the “n” word and replace it with "slave."  The “n” word is a word that I don’t believe I have ever said out loud, despite reading it in these books as a kid. I knew it was a “bad” and derogatory word. I don’t know how exactly I knew, but I did. What I don’t understand is how people can be so politically correct to not be able to read or discuss these books due simply to the presence of a word that was acceptable when it was written. Look, slavery happened. Horrible racism happened.  It’s part of our history. Are we going to ignore it and pretend like it never happened or learn from it?

What’s the next offensive thing that will have to be removed because we are too politically correct to recognize that it happened? Oh, right all the references in Adventures of Tom Sawyer to “injun Joe” are going to be rewritten as “Indian Joe” and “half-breed” will be “half-blood.” I guess I can’t listen to Cher’s song “Half Breed” anymore either. And what about To Kill a Mockingbird? The “n” word shows up there. It also shows up in Of Mice and Men and Native Son. What about the words “Negro” or “colored,” which also are no longer acceptable? Do those have to be wiped clean from the many old books they appear in also? On a somewhat similar note, I’ve been reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes during my commute this week, and there is constant use of the word “ejaculated” where today we would probably use “exclaimed.” Watson is “ejaculating” all over the place in that book. Will other words like that, which are now more identifiable in a dirty way have to be sanitized? I wouldn’t be surprised.

What’s more difficult to understand is why Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn need to be revised, yet rap lyrics and comedians can say the “n” word as often as they’d like, and it appears in movies with some frequency as well. Are people too dense to understand that these books were written in the 1800s? Is it too difficult to explain to students the time and context in which the books were written? Who is really complaining about this…black people or people of other races who are so afraid of appearing racist they will do everything possible to erase all evidence of racism, both past and present?

At any rate, I don’t like this whole revision idea. It’s a slippery slope.

1 comment:

  1. Love your last paragraph! I started yelling about the rappers as I soon as I heard about this! Most ridiculous thing ever. Where are the good teachers who will sit and have a candid/honest conversation with their students and explain to them what it all means?!

    ReplyDelete