As my dad used to say in his own Yogi Berra-style way, "This gets my dandruff up." By way of synopsizing the link below, a new version of Huckleberry Finn is about to be published in which such words as "nigger" and "injun" are being replaced in the text to reflect modern day political correctness and the evolution of such words' usage to reflect only pejorative intent. In this day and age, I'm one to submit to racial and sexual sensitivities, at least to a point. In my writing I make scrupulous efforts to avoid using such words when others can work just as well. And I avoid using "he" and "man" as the old-fashioned generic for both male and female. Why? Because such condescensions are part of the fabric of this day and age.
Where my "dandruff" starts elevating itself is in the lack of recognition of a couple of things that all literary readers should certainly understand:
- The words used by characters in the book don't, in the final analysis, reflect the mindset and emotional makeup of the author. To my mind, the hubbub over Finn is like accusing a mystery writer of proxy murder, thus an effort must be made to exorcise any mention of killing in his or her books. And what must we do with Anne Rice's vampires? Oh, but we mustn't propagandize our children with such defamatory names and stereotypes. So we're to teach our children that such stereotypes never existed? C'mon! Better to let them know about it and to understand the arc of social evolution through literature, don't you think?
- A careful reading of Huck Finn's river ramble should reveal two things to the discriminating reader. First, Huck is a bit oafish, and his use of these terms reflects on him more than on the social status of Jim and others. Huck's a complex character, as are the characters of the best literature, and his travels with Jim are a journey of camaraderie and social acceptance as much as anything else. Second, these terms, which we see as derogatory now, were part of the reality of life some 150 years ago, something to be handled much as we handle the constant threat of war and terrorism in the modern age. So the question becomes: "How do we write about our times without reflecting the good and the bad of that age in a matter-of-fact manner?" We should always remember that literature should ask the compelling social questions. But to pass judgement in such heavy handed ways as this new book will only serves to add unneeded didacticism to the mix.
Throughout the book — 219 times in all — the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave,” a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.