What do you think about this decision?

"New Edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to Lose the 'N' Word".

I do understand the sensitivity issue, but I also agree with a comment that I saw on Facebook this morning. The writer of this comment on Facebook correctly pointed out that if you take the word out then you essentially pretend that racism is not an issue in the book and you cover up racism during the time period as well. The relationship between Huck and Jim, and the culture of racism that surrounds that relationship, is, indeed, a sensitive topic. But it is an important topic. If you ignore it, then you ignore so much that is important about that book.

I have often heard that this book is banned in schools because of the 'n' word. I am TOTALLY against banning books. I don't understand the fear that surrounds letting anyone read something. I have seen the fear in others, however.

When I was between the ages of ten and thirteen--an age when many kids today turn to the teen or young adult section of the bookstore--there just were not a lot of good young adult books. Most of my book-lover friends and I just skipped from children's literature to adult literature. I remember reading a Stephen King novel at the hospital while visiting a sick relative. I was around eleven or so. And one of my aunts told my mother that I shouldn't be reading that book because it was bad for me to do so at my age and it would corrupt me. My mother clearly told my aunt that I could read whatever I wanted because I had sense enough to put it down if I couldn't handle it (very true of me, by the way) and to ask questions if I needed to. Of course, the response would be: Why would you want your eleven-year-old daughter asking the kind of questions she would ask after reading such a book?"...to which my mother would probably reply: Why not? That is the way of the world.

I love my mom!

Anyway, I remember hearing this conversation and being totally shocked and confronted with the question of "Am I reading something bad? Can books be bad?" for the very first time. I quickly decided that some books can be "bad" or make you feel "bad" things...but that doesn't mean that you ignore them or avoid the questions they face you to confront.

Literature that makes us uncomfortable or makes us react strongly is the most important kind of literature. It forces us to confront our true selves (just like Atreyu in The Never Ending Story!!!...just had to throw that in there!). No one can force you to believe something that you read--even things you agree with strongly. Reading something may put what we consider to be "dangerous notions" into someone's head...but chances are, those notions were building from something with a lot longer/stronger influence in a child's life than the encounter with the book. The same exact book could be read by two people and you would have two totally different reactions.

I will be the first to admit that books change your life. (I wanted to be Harriet the Spy when I was nine...was convinced that I was, too.) You can fall into one and identify with it so clearly that you become it or the character for quite some time. But being a successful learner means that you eventually have to step back and evaluate things with a clear head. Just like anyone influential in our lives, we go through the same process with books or characters we encounter: we admire them, emulate them, eventually rebel against them, and then come to some kind of understanding about where you fit in that process (and therefore creating your own opinions). It isn't dangerous, but it is one of the most important things that we do. This is why reading is so important.

And this brings me back to the "n" word controversy in Huckleberry Finn. If you never encounter it, especially in the form it takes in American literature of a certain time period, then you ignore one of the most profound issues in the country--and the world. Ignoring a problem only makes it worse. It is like reading literature produced during and after the holocaust: it must be read and remembered so that it never happens again.

So, final thought: I think that the only very bad and dangerous thing about Twain's book is the decision by a contemporary editor to cover up what is one of Twain's most important arguments in the book. It looks like most of the people commenting on the article (linked at the beginning of this post) agree.


Popular posts from this blog

Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness saga...

"Thought-Provoking" People: Cyril Wilde/Holland

What am I reading? A "W. W. W. Wednesday" post...