Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Classically Altered

Growing up, I was a bit of a reader. Okay, that’s most definitely an understatement. I read all the damn time. I had two books in my backpack (that had nothing to do with school), books stashed under the seats of my parent’s cars, books tucked behind the shampoo bottles in the bathtub and in the crack between my bed and the sideboard…I had books everywhere. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising; both of my parents are readers themselves. My dad was known on sight at the local used bookstore, and he sort of had revolving credit there. (Though, I still don’t understand why the rule of “No Reading at the Dinner Table” only applied to me, and not my dad…but anyway…)

I read the traditional kid-fare of my generation, (Baby-Sitters Club, Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, V.C. Andrews, One Last Wish…) but I also really, really loved the classics. The Adventures of Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, To Kill A Mockingbird, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Treasure Island and The Witch of Blackbird Pond were some of my favorites. When I was a kid, I just liked the stories and the adventures they’d sweep me off on. Now that I’m grown (yet, still not grown-up), these books still hold a special place in my heart, and I find it amazing that the same books have been able to touch generations of kids in the same way.

Which is why, last night, I got what I found to be devastating news. The Adventures of Huck Finn is about to be re-released in a new edition. Only, this edition is going to be censored. The ‘n’ word will be replaced with the word ‘slave’, and ‘injun’ is going to be replaced as well.

The change is being heralded as an “update for the new generation”, as opposed to the more accurate “censorship”. The argument is thus, the book itself is getting banned from too many reading lists because of the language, so in order to keep our kids reading this classic, they’re changing it.

But here’s the thing; this novel is a period piece, set in a time when those words were not only used, they were accepted as a normal form of speech. No, discrimination, segregation, and racism are not glorious, shining examples of the American spirit, but hey, they’re a part of our history. We’re not only a nation of positive advances, we’ve had our slip-ups in history, too. We’re not perfect.

Why can’t we use this novel, and others like it, as teaching examples for points of history? No, I don’t want any kid to feel bad about themselves, or uncomfortable around their classmates for reading the ‘n’ word. But, on the other hand, isn’t that shock and offence absolutely necessary to remind us of where we’ve come and where we never want to go again? Can’t we use it as a way of opening dialogue, and maybe, just maybe, segueing into a discussion about equally offensive terms (retard, fag, etc) that are still considered acceptable?

Instead, it feels like this is one more attempt to sweep our bad side under the carpet, and protect our special snowflake children from reading anything that might offend their delicate sensibilities. I know one thing for sure; I’m purchasing one of the last uncensored editions this weekend and tucking it away. I want my children to read the REAL version of the classic, and let it spark a real conversation. And, if they want to read it at the dinner table, I would most definitely be okay with that.


  1. Just drawing more attention to something that doesn't need any more attention in my opinion. Its like banning Little Black Sambo or Song of the South. Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah was an Disney Classic, and guess what, its not there. Maybe they will ban the Three Cabilleros next because they wear sombreros. It just stupid.

  2. I agree that they should just leave the literature alone. Teachers should just warn students that there is language in the books that could make some people feel uncomfortable, but that the book is a classic.

    What are we going to do next? Ban Shakespeare because Romeo and Juliet commit suicide. And suicide is a controversial and uncomfortable topic...

    There are probably an infinite number of books that people could ban because it offended someone in the time since it's been published... Ugh... this crap pisses me off.

  3. I agree with you, whole-heartedly. It's disturbing to see this and I also wonder what else they will "update" (censor). Mark Twain is rolling in his grave.


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