Is C-wording the N-word F-worded up? (Huck Finn now sanitized for your protection)

Don't miss Nina Shen Rastogi's excellent article in Slate exploring the controversy over Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The Texts of His Companion Boy Books. This new version of the classic novels has been purged of the words that keep Huck high on the banned books lists from year to year: "nigger" and "injun". Some are chaffing at the idea of censoring Mark Twain, but Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben pragmatically told the NY Times, "I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone."

Rastogi quotes Toni Morrison's response to the banning of the book...
"It struck me as a purist yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children. Amputate the problem, band-aid the solution. A serious comprehensive discussion of the term by an intelligent teacher certainly would have benefited my eighth-grade class and would have spared all of us (a few blacks, many whites—mostly second-generation immigrant children) some grief. Name calling is a plague of childhood and a learned activity ripe for discussion as soon as it surfaces."
...then goes on to make the inarguable point that
"...classrooms — and the school systems they're embedded in — aren't always idealized teaching spaces: One too-graphic sex scene in an otherwise age-appropriate book, and an administrator may decide to nix it. Or a teacher may swap it for a book that's less likely to get them angry phone calls from parents."
I would love to see Twain's books freely taught in schools, but do the "stories stand alone" without the unmistakable context of those racial epithets? Is it healthy for us as a society to look away from the evolution of both language and ideology? Retouching history prevents us from learning from it. Blithely Febreezing "nigger" from our past makes it easier to say "fag" now.

Three years ago, I devoted some rant space here on the blog to the cosmetic surgery performed on Margaret Mitchell's characters in sequels to Gone With the Wind. From Rhett is no gentleman and frankly, my dear, I DO give a damn!:
Margaret Mitchell was a product of the time and place in which she lived, and Gone With the Wind is her work. The hijacking of her characters decades after her death whether it's for the benign purpose of masking her racism with lemony freshness or with the more pragmatic goal of cranking out an instant bestseller - is almost as offensive to me as Mitchell's flattering portrayal of the KKK as gallant gentlemen defending their Heaven-blessed way of life. I think there's great historical and literary value in a book that demonstrates how deeply ingrained that thinking was (and still is for some) in Southern culture. The mamby-pambification of Rhett Butler in these sappy sequels, no matter how well written, is the rape of a great book.
I've been laboring through the hefty Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, laughing out loud at times, occasionally shaking my head, and constantly being amazed. I think Mark Twain was an extraordinarily forward-thinking guy who knew exactly what those words meant then and strongly suspected what they would mean in the future.


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