Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some Twains Shouldn't Meet


What it should be

I've been thinking about the latest nonsense about changing the wording in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In our sanitized, lest- we- offend world the idea is to take the word nigger which was in common use in Mark Twain's time and change it to slave.
The words do not mean the same thing.
They may have been virtually interchangeable at one time, but they are not now nor have they ever been literally interchangeable. If Twain had meant slave I am confident that's the word he'd have chosen.
He didn't and it is not anyone's place to make it seem he did. It is not okay to change a word we don't like in a written work.
It dulls the point.
Rather than rail about it I decided to say it with pictures.
One the left we have a perfectly fine photo. To the right is the picture changed to sepia tone. It loses its flavour. It tells the same story, but in a bland and boring way. The photo has no point.
Below it is another view. It's closer up, head on, the colours stand out more. It is more interesting.
I took it through a window. It has a reflection.
Good literature is a reflection of its time. It should be head on and in full colour, not bland and monotone.


the Bag Lady said...

I agree one hundred percent. Twain's language is the language of his time, whether it's politically correct in our time or not!

Leah J. Utas said...

Thank you, Cousin.

Tabor said...

I also agree. The word used in that literature should remain as written. Sanitizing books is not a good idea. It doesn't protect anyone.

Reb said...

What the PC people don't realize is that the children reading it are not going to start running around called people niggers because of a book. They will call them that if that is how they have been raised and changing a book isn't going to change that type of parent.

Leah J. Utas said...

Tabor, thanks. Sanitizing helps no one.

Reb, you're right. And keeping nigger in the book gives us a chance to discuss why it's not acceptable.

messymimi said...

Amen and Amen.

Read everything in the context of its time, audience, setting, etc.

Twain didn't mean anything bad by the word. We should be offended by its use today, and not offended by its use when it wasn't a bad word to say.

Leah J. Utas said...

That's exactly it, Messymimi.

Hilary said...

I totally agree but if it's going to get the book back into schools where it wouldn't be without that change, then that might be a good thing.

My understanding is that this is only one version which is being altered.. for school use and that others will remain untouched. Hopefully educators will discuss what has been changed and why.. though for sure its impact would be weakened.

I would like kids to continue to be exposed to the book. I would much prefer it remain intact but if that can't be so, I think it's the lesser of two evils - the worse being that they don't read it at all.

Ron Scheer said...

Hard to get people to agree these days on which is the lesser of two evils. Maybe that was always true.

Leah J. Utas said...

Hilary, you make a compelling point, but I just can't agree with you. Sure, they can always read the real version later, but the sanitized one will be first and it won't be the same.

Leah J. Utas said...

Ron, maybe.

Barbara Martin said...

This is bound to happen with many other books. I still recall the days when books were "abridged" so readers wouldn't be offended by language or topic within the text. It took some years before I was able to read the unabridged version of "The Magnus" and found the passage that was missing actually gave the proper meaning to the story as a whole. Too many passages that are removed leave huge gaps in the storyline.

Mafk Twain wrote about life conditions as he saw them, and is a reflection of history at that time.

Leah J. Utas said...

I often wondered what "abridged" entailed, Barbara. I refused to read them on the grounds that someone other than the author made the changes. I accidentally read the abridged version of Les Miserables. I was assured by the cover copy that all that was missing was 30 pages or so explaining some factory work or the like. I was still galled at myself for not noticing until I got the book home.

David Cranmer said...

Well put, Leah.

Leah J. Utas said...

Thank you, David.

CherylK said...

Well said, Leah...couldn't agree more.