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calendar   Thursday - January 06, 2011

the ethnic cleansing of huckleberry finn in our new pc dictated world

Saw yesterday’s post by Drew when booting with the intent of posting this very interesting piece by Christopher Howse, who is generally the religious editor for the Telegraph among other job titles.

This story also has it’s origins in the USA, and the remarks about pc are right on target.

Here’s the whole editorial on the subject of that now forbidden word. 


Huckleberry Finn loses the ‘nigger’ he loves, thanks to a publisher’s ethnic cleansing

By Christopher Howse Literature

There is a great fuss in America about a new edition of Huckleberry Finn from which the word nigger has been excised. It occurs in the novel 217 times, or 219 (tallies vary, and I have lost count), so its loss makes quite a difference. It is like The Merchant of Venice without the word Jew.

Indeed Jew is far more pejorative in the mouths of Shakespeare’s characters than nigger is in the mouths of some of Mark Twain’s. Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant, resolves to run away, and declares: “I am a Jew if I serve the Jew any longer.”

We readers of Shakespeare and Mark Twain do not dislike black people or Jewish people. Yet we can be more certain that Twain did not hate blacks than that Shakespeare was not anti-Semitic. Anyone would have to be not only stupid but a fool to miss the fact that Mark Twain was on the side of Jim, the runaway slave in Huckleberry Finn.

Even if we cannot be sure that Shakespeare wasn’t anti-Semitic, should it mean that teenagers at school must never read The Merchant of Venice again? Or, if we are doubtful about Thomas Carlyle’s attitude to emancipated slaves, does that mean nobody should peruse his discourse from 1853, On the Nigger Question?
Striking out the word nigger every time it appears in Huckleberry Finn is a kind of ethnic cleansing, a pretence that in the land of the free no one referred to black people by a demeaning term once the Civil War had been won.

Worse, it is to confuse a word with a system of thought. For something really hair-raising on race, look up the “scientific” approach of the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica under the entry Negro. “The recognised leaders of the race are almost invariably persons of mixed blood,” it declares, “and the qualities which have made them leaders are derived certainly in part and perhaps mainly from their white ancestry.”

Mark Twain was having none of this. Huckleberry Finn is about the moral education of its hero. At first he is scandalised that his friend Tom Sawyer should be willing to help Jim escape from his “owner”. “I couldn’t believe it. Tom Sawyer a nigger-stealer! ” Huck believes that stealing will send him to hell, but, in a crux of the plot, he chooses to risk hellfire rather than betray Jim.

Huck learns Jim has feelings too, after hurting them by playing a trick on him. He apologises. “It was fifteen minutes,” Huck explains, “before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither.” How would that sentence be improved by changing nigger to slave, as the new publishers have done?

Huckleberry Finn has a happy ending of sorts, for Jim is freed. But Huck himself is the one who has no place in civilised society, and he hatches a plan to head off for “Injun” territory. Only, of course, the publishers can’t let the word Injun sully the minds of the impressionable young either.

The position of black people in America is only one strand of Huckleberry Finn, but it is the dominating theme of Twain’s very interesting problem tale Pudd’nhead Wilson. It concerns two babies, one regarded as a “nigger” though only one-32nd part black, the other the heir to the local estate. As in The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain has fun when they are swapped. Yet he calls his story a tragedy.

The child brought up as the heir goes to the bad, behaves badly to black people, and turns to murder. The amiable child brought up as a “nigger” is at last rewarded by being recognised as the heir. But he can never feel comfortable among white people, because of his speech and manners.
It’s nurture, not nature that makes the man, Twain suggests. For him, the problem is not “Niggaz with Attitude” but the attitude to “niggers”.

HOWSE AT THE TELEGRAPH


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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 01/06/2011 at 08:37 AM   
Filed Under: • LiteratureUSA •  
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