Friday, January 7, 2011

Thou Shall Not Tamper With Published Literature

On airplanes, passengers caught tampering with the lavatory smoke detector can be fined up to $2000.  Why?  Well, it's illegal for one, but it is also a safety hazard that could potentially jeopardize the well-being of everyone else on board.

So, my question is, how much should Mr. Alan be fined for tampering with what is considered one of American literature's greatest novels?  Because altering this text is a "perspective hazard" that could potentially jeopardize the knowledge and education of future generations.

Literature is an artifact, and artifacts, are elements of culture.  They are objects created by humans to depict social norms accepted by a society.  When referring to artifacts such as Huck Finn - artifacts that have become a legacy; artifacts that educate generations about a time long before their existence; artifacts that will deliver a message long after we are no longer - it is vital to preserve these objects in their original form.  The way intended by their inventor; the way that captures the truth. 
History is ugly.  Our world has been no stranger to segregation, discrimination, and injustice.  We've hung those suspected of witchcraft, gassed those who attend Temple, and "hunted" for Communists.  And in 2011, the road to equality continues.

If we do not report these trends correctly, how is the future to know any different?

Mark Twain's novel depicts an era where people were misguided.  They believed skin color provided a plethora of knowledge, when in fact, it shared nothing about talent or character.  And during that time, groups of people were referred to by certain words.  Derogatory words, yes, but they were the words used nevertheless.

The article I've linked states the new version of this novel replaces the n word with "slave."

May I?

According to, the first word is defined as an extremely disparaging and offensive term (slang) to identify a person considered to be contemptible, ignorant, and inferior.  Contrarily, a slave is a person who is viewed as being the property of another; someone who has been captured against their will and placed under the domination of another party.

It's hardly the same thing.

In my opinion as an educator, a writer, and a human, this entire debacle is an attempt to rewrite history.  We can not and should not sugarcoat the ugliness that preceded us.  It is an insult to those who suffered. 

What we can do is learn.  Every crappy situation conceals a lesson to be uncovered.  And that is exactly why Huck Finn should remain in its original, appropriate, and historically accurate form.

If someone is offended by the dialogue Mark Twain used, I say GOOD!!!! Be offended.  Be very offended.  It's an offensive term.  Think.  Empathize.  React.  Make a conscious decision to end the hate.  Learn from the past; refuse to allow history to repeat itself.  Isn't learning one of the best tools for progress?

Any thoughts on this?  Am I missing something?  Where do we draw the lines of censorship?  Is this simply a stepping stone to an even larger problem?  Chime in; I love discussion.

Wishing you all a weekend blessed with inspiration and productivity.

Oh, and just a little FYI: As a reader, I'm not exactly a Huck Finn kind of guy.  Take that for what it's worth...


  1. Hi Paul. I just wrote about this on the blog a couple of days ago, too. Censor Mark Twain?? Are they nuts?? Every comment I got, so far, have agreed with my point of view...which is, of course, yours!

  2. I'm with you Paul. I've always believed in respecting the work of artists. If you don't then don't consume the art. Life is ugly as well as beautiful. Gotta take the bad with the good...and so forth. What you said reminded me of something a friend said to me once. She said "look at all the civilizations of the past, the ones that have been destroyed. It's the art (drama, writing, sculptures, architecture) that remains. It's what survives most often."
    How will it be with our civilization? Im' sure it will be the same with us. Our art (lit., painting, etc.) that will serve as the history of our society. And I just remembered that I'm talking to a teacher of history so I could be over-generalizing.
    Oh, and good use of the word debacle. It's a favorite of mine.

  3. Exactly my thoughts. It's wrong to change the word just because it's offensive. For one thing, the world is full of things that are offensive. Better get used to it because otherwise, we'll all be living in Harrison Bergeron's world where no one's allowed to do anything that might remotely upset someone.

    I know that world is a long way away, but it just got one step closer.

  4. Where there is censorship, there will always be people to speak out against it. Or so the world hopes...

    And is it a sad state of affairs that the word verification is bleappr of all things.

  5. Changing the word doesn't mean it didn't exist...doesn't erase it. Ignoring the past only takes a step closer to repeating our mistakes. Great post, as usual, Paul. So wonderful to have met a thoughtful, insightful, talented writer:)

  6. This process is called historical revisionism. The government here in the states has been at it for years. If you want to read the whole Constitution, then don't dare pick up a school book. About half of the text is missing. Why? Because it references God as the reason the forefathers did what they did. And of course, we just CAN'T have that in schools, now can we.

    Ok, so maybe I just compared Mark Twain to God, but...well, you get the picture. :) In Twitter lingo, this gets a BIG 'OLE #FAIL.

  7. Becky: They are nuts. It seems most people tend to agree with us. It almost makes me wonder if this entire thing had some alterior motive.

    Scott: Your friend makes an excellent point; the artifacts of our culture survive, even if the culture itself does not. Literature helps preserve the history of a society, and no, you are not over-generalizing. If it weren't for these tools, our historical knowledge would be more limited. This is the stuff that paints a picture and fills in the gaps.

    JE: "The world is full of things that are offensive." Right you are - I enjoyed your post on this topic as well. In this context, the word is being used for educational purposes - to recreate an era. I don't see how changing it will teach the same lesson.

  8. Jeffrey: So nice to see you here during your "hiatus" Haha! I didn't expect you to be checking in, but am glad you did. Yes, people are always speaking out about censorship. Actually, I don't view this situation as an issue of censorship as much as I see it as an altercation of the truth. The words are not synonymous, and in my opinion, paint an entirely different reader. (And, having the experience of working with the exact age bracket this novel was intended for, trust me when I say they don't need anything confusing them when it comes to reading comprehension.)

    Michele: Those are some positive affirmations you gave me - as always, I thank you. Absolutely; changing it does not mean the word was never used. But, if we continue erasing it from our records, there will come a time when people may not know the history of the word, and that is a scary thought.

    Sal: You make me laugh. That is exactly why I was one of "those teachers" who didn't use the textbook often. First of all, it's surface reading. Many key concepts fail to be covered correctly. Secondly, they are so "politically correct" they've become a joke. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for teaching diversity and went to great lengths to incorporate multiculturalism in my curriculum. But we don't live in a politically correct society, and kids need to be taught the truth. I don't understand this movement to rewrite history and make people believe it was something different. Ever read "Lies My Teacher Told Me?" I don't want to be quoted in that book!

  9. I couldn't have said this better myself. It's completely baffling to me to even suggest changing literature as an attempt at being politically correct is counterproductive.

  10. Darnit..that was "correct, *it's* counterproductive."

  11. Good post. I agree--it's supposed to be offensive, and people are supposed to react. Duh, that's the point! To show the stark reality of that time. People shouldn't mess with that.

    Nice to meet you, Paul, and good luck with your novel writing (didja finish that first draft?)!

  12. Christine: Thanks for visiting! I'm glad you agree. I'm also glad I'm not the only person who corrects my comment errors - not that it's necessary on my blog, as you will notice I make a zillion that I never catch.

    Carol: Nice to meet you as well; I'm so glad to see you here. And draft schmaft...I'll get there....eventually. (I'm actually starting to think there is a piece of me that is afraid to finish. I'm prolonging the rejection stage, but I also think I'm afraid to let the story go. I'll miss my characters....)

  13. What a great post, Paul. I think you speak for a lot of people with the same views. Being English and living in England, I absolutely hate political correctness. In this country it has become insane. I'm English, I live in England, I come from English descendants, but now it's politically incorrect for me to be an Englishman. It may offend people :S Apparently, I'm British now. You can be an Irishman, Scotsman, or a Welshman, but not an Englishman.

    On a similar subject as you, over here they banned the children's nursery rhyme, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep from our schools. Like I said, insane!

  14. Thank you, Kurt. So why did they ban Baa, Baa, Black Sheep - because it has the word "black" in it? With that logic, I guess Mary Had A Little Lamb is next, cause we all know what that fleece looked like....

  15. Oh my goodness!! Let's censor our classics! While we are at it let's censor our history. Craziness.

  16. That just infuriates me. Just because we don't like a particular word, let's just replace it and that makes it all ok. An above comment called it historical revisionism and I agree. We cannot rewrite history but we can learn from it. Yes, get angry about it, angry enough to do something about it. But rewrite it? Lunacy.

  17. I haven't actually read any Mark Twain. If I had, I might feel stronger about this. As it is, I still agree with you. When I first read about this I was annoyed, but it doesn't exactly surprise me. Whether it's revising history or just an attempt to be politically correct, it's been going on for the past decade or so and I don't see it stopping. It's getting kind of ridiculous though.

  18. Lynda - "While we are at it let's censor our history." I think this is a great idea; we will take out everything we don't like and teach kids of a utopia that never existed. I like that - it's very "The Giver."

    Floweringmama - Thanks so much for stopping by. It's a pleasure to have you here. And yes, learning from history is our best option. Actually, it's our only option. The past is in the past, but we don't need it resurfacing in the future.

    Quinn - Believe it or not, I have not read Mark Twain either. It was assigned in my 10th grade American Lit. class, but I sort of skipped that unit and played videogames instead. I guess what gets me going is I don't view it as a censorship issue; I view it as an attempt to alter historical documentation. It has certainly been going on too long, and it is a problem I expect we will continue facing.


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(Sorry to bring back the word verification. Just couldn't take the spam anymore.)