Sunday, January 16, 2011

Throwing My Hat in the Ring: My Take on the Huck Finn Controversy

I was browsing through the blogs I frequent this morning when I came across Liz's eloquent post over at Consumed by Books regarding the recent Huck Finn controversy. I have been stewing over this issue for the past week, but Liz's words finally gave me pause and were the impetus for me to sit down and write about my feelings regarding this issue.

First of all, the professor who approached the New South Books about creating this edited version had good intentions. He wanted to make the book available to a wider audience. Given that Huck Finn is the fourth most banned book in schools today due to the use and frequency of two particular racial slurs, Professor Gribben figured that by replacing the words, it would allow for more students to have access to this great work of American fiction.

But that is where my admiration for Professor Gribben stops. You see, personally, the changes make me angry. Racially charged books like Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird used those racial slurs to try to expose the ignorance and intolerance of their times, not celebrate it. When we take those words out of the books and replace them with something more PC, it's like we're trying to rewrite history. NO ONE back then would have ever DREAMED of calling someone a Native American, which is what Professor Gribben decided should replace the word Injun. Truth be told, I'd rather have students NOT read the books than for them to have some sort of mis-represented view of history. Those words are SUPPOSED to make people uncomfortable. Students aren't going to learn to be bothered by injustice if they don't see it in its most raw form.

And it's interesting that I just so happen to be reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time because I just came to the part where the head fireman is talking to the main character, Guy Montag, about why their society started burning books in the first place: because too many groups of people were offended by certain books and they just decided that the ideas inside them were too volatile. Intellectualism is dangerous, ignorance is bliss. Ummm... does anyone not see some frightening parallels here?

Hmmmm... might this be the next step? First change the words, then burn the books?

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