Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cause I Wore Knickers Instead of Jeans

Welcome to Choose and Defend Wednesday.  This week, I thought I'd present a topic of much discussion in the world of books.  Recently, a particular publisher decided to publish a version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain with some racial terms that are considered very offensive today, changed to be what they consider more politically correct.  I know that the n-word was replaced by the word "slave".  I don't feel comfortable typing the actual "n" word, so I just won't.  I heard they replaced "Injun" with some other term too...I think Injun Joe became Indian Joe or something.  I'm okay with writing "Injun" since my kids are 1/4 Injun :-)

I am curious as to how people see this.  Is it good to provide an alternative that schools won't ban?  Or is it wrong to go back and clean up the past? 

Change Is Good (in this case)
OR

Change is Wrong (in this case)

What do you think?  Choose and Defend!

16 comments:

secret agent woman said...

Oh my. On the one hand, I dislike the censorship part of it. And yet hateful slang words damage. Can you imagine being African-American and sitting in class hearing the n-word read aloud over and over? I'm inclined to say change the words and then lead with a discussion of that change and why it's important that we've grown as a culture.

MrManuel said...

Keep it. Keep it, keep it, keep it. Is it right? No. But it is part of history and we don't need to go changing things or else that is how they are forgotten.

Pamela said...

I say change is wrong. The words are wrong, now, but why can't they add a foreward or footnote or something instead of changing it? Very very wrong.

Churlita said...

That is a tough one. I have a HUGE problem with censorship and racist terms. But I think it's important to keep what the author wrote. It is indicative of the time and hopefully, that will initiate a good discussion about the evils of racism.

Tara said...

Keep it in, but let there be an explanation about it in class. It is a part of history. Definitely an ugly part of history, but history just the same.

laura b. said...

Secret: That is an interesting way to look at it. Yes, discussion would be key, in either instance. One for Change is Good.

MrManuel: I have always liked the quote about those who don't know history being destined to repeat it. One for Change is Bad.

NoRegrets: Yes, again, discussion is they key. Two for Change is Bad.

Churlita: I think you put that very well, thank you. Three for Change is Bad.

Tara: I like that the idea of discussion is paramount when thinking about this question. Four for Change is Bad.

Everyone: I really appreciate the imput on this particular Choose and Defend. It is a complicated issue and I love hearing your thoughts on it. So far, we are united in wanting discussion to be involved, with 4 initiating the discussion from the book as it was written and 1 feeling it is more appropriate to initiate it from change.

3GirlKnight said...

I'll vote for Change is Bad too. Re-writing it makes it a different book. Who are we to put words in the authors mouth?

AlienCG said...

When I heard about this change, I was appalled. Many parts of our history were very ugly, but I don't think covering them up and sanitizing them will make anything better. Mark Twain did not refer to Jim as "Slave" in his original writing, nor did he intend to do so. He used the "n-word". CHANGE IS NOT GOOD in this case.

laura b. said...

3GK: I have an odd feeling about that as well. Five for Change is Bad.

AlienCG: I am going to break my semi-silence and just agree with you here. Exactly. Six for Change is Bad.

Score now - 1 for, 6 against - this change.

secret agent woman said...

Maybe the question would be better put to African-Americans? Seems like its easier to vote for no change when you aren't the group being demeaned.

laura b. said...

Secret: I'm sorry if you're offended in some way. You know this isn't a scientific sample or an official survey, right? I was just posing a discussion question, which incidentally I have posed in other circles as well.
No one here pretended to have some omniscient view of this issue. Opinions were expressed in a thoughtful way and that's certainly all I ever request here.

secret agent woman said...

You didn't offend me at all! Nor did the commenters. I was just reading through the comments and thinking that it's easy enough to hold tight to authenticity, but I think it's an extremely complicated issue and it made me think about how it might feel to the person for whom those words wold be like a punch in the gut. It's yet another area, albeit a more serious one than the choices you normally post, where I think there are valid arguments on both sides and no real good answer. And really, isn't it a good thing that the post made me come back to re-read and feel compelled to comment further?

laura b. said...

Secret: I agree that it is impossible for anyone of any race, who is a decent human being, to read those words without feeling shame. It also seems impossible to pretend that there wasn't a time in history when that is the way some people spoke, without thought. The substitute word that was chosen is quite ugly too, particularly in this context.
It is a complicated issue and I am glad it encouraged genuine thought and discussion.

BrightenedBoy said...

It was absolutely a mistake to censor this classic work of fiction.

What turns a book from a novel into an enduring masterpiece is when it can touch something genuine and capture the essence of an era.

The fact of the matter is that our history has not been polite or sanitary, and it should be studied and remembered for what it is, not what we wish it was.

That book came from a period of horrible racial apartheid in this country. Even with the fundamental issues of truth and free speech discounted, we should never forget what that time was like for millions of people of color.

FW said...

The original text should be accessible electronically from archives for those who want it. It is out of copyright I reckon. So I don't have an objection to a publisher putting out a modernised version, as long as it is stated on the cover and there is an introductory text that explains. I'm not sure I'm happy with a simple find and replace though, it would need someone clever to work out the author's intentions and find a modernised word.

laura b. said...

BB: I'm so happy to have your imput here, as you are nearer the age when everyone is first exposed to Mark Twain and his very vivid writing style.
Excellent argument against making this sort of change, thank you.
Seven for Change is Bad.

FW: Yes, the only reason this book could be changed in this fashion is because it is in the public domain now...like all those Pride & Prejudice & Zombies type books
:-)
You do make a good point, that perhaps this would be a more effective update if they hadn't simply gone through and substituted one offensive word for another rather offensive word.
So...Two for Change is Good, right?

Everyone: This has been such a great Choose and Defend. I don't usually do serious topics (as you well know). This was an interesting change though and I appreciate the serious thought everyone put into it. Thank you!!!!!