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Should literary classics be rewritten to make modern audiences more comfortable?

Mark Twain wrote that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter." A new edition of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" will try to find out if that holds true by replacing the N-word with "slave" in an effort not to offend readers. Read the full story.

By Abha Bhattarai  |  January 5, 2011; 7:57 AM ET  | Category:  National Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Whitewashing (pun intended) history to make it acceptable would mean that future generations can't learn from our mistakes.

Posted by: illogicbuster | January 5, 2011 8:30 AM

Posted by: CharlesMcKay1 | January 5, 2011 8:38 AM

Yet another ridiculous example of revisionist history. The past cannot be changed, only how we regard it.

It's astonishing to me that n*gger is so offensive that it cannot be written, but bitch is acceptable to society. That says a great deal about how society values women, doesn't it? No one seems to mind offending them!

Posted by: padre1957 | January 5, 2011 8:45 AM

No work in the arts (film, lit., visual, etc) should ever be altered. No matter who it upsets. Period.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 5, 2011 8:49 AM

N-word with attitude?

That's ok

N-word in a classic is forbidden...

.....not like 'they' would read it anyway

Posted by: georgedixon1 | January 5, 2011 8:54 AM

Ridiculous that anyone should consider changing the words, as if it's not important to learn their negative connotations.

Honestly, I'm more offended by the constant use by young black persons of the word than I ever was by Twain's honest portrayal of black persons in Missouri.

Posted by: aaronweiner | January 5, 2011 8:54 AM

Saying no work in the arts should ever be altered is a nice sentiment, but should be largely held by those who have not yet reached junior high school. After that discretion and judgement should be taught. Those who believe otherwise simply do not have enough intelligence to exercise judgement. They need simple slogans to tell them what to do. They would never say the same things about what a teacher can say as they would about what a piece of art should say - and after all, they are both simply cases of someone saying something.

As for Huck Finn, in this case it should not be altered because the word is appropriate in context.

Posted by: fishcrow | January 5, 2011 8:56 AM

Altering a text is the first step on a slippery slope for making everybody equally in denial about our differences. It is publishing a lie as if it is the truth. The problem with judging for others is who gets to set the standard. Let's just burn the damn book and get it over with!

Posted by: a2000b2001 | January 5, 2011 9:08 AM

In the movie Thank You for Smoking, William H. Macy's character is against cigarettes. He thinks they are dangerous and that if people see classic movies in which they are being smoked, it may lead to others beginning to smoke. Because of this, by the end of the movie he has proposed replacing cigarettes with other items. The movie stars of the 1950s will no longer be holding cigarettes, but they will instead have a candy cane or a pen between their fingers. Ludicrous, right? It sounds shockingly similar to what is being proposed.

The suggestion that changing the language will not affect the original text is laughable. For a writer, language is a tool. And for a good writer, each word, sentence, paragraph, etc. is specifically chosen to convey whatever it is they are attempting to convey. Therefore, it is ridiculous to change one and think that the other will not be affected.

Posted by: marcmacdonald | January 5, 2011 9:17 AM

Huck starts his adventures with a runaway slave N-Jim but ends with his friend Jim. Gee you think Twain was trying to say something here.

Posted by: james90 | January 5, 2011 9:21 AM

Well said, Padre! The more we "dumb down" our education and history, the more we're going to become the laughingstock of the modern world! It's bad enough we've got the Religious Reich trying to insert creation into our science curriculum (where it has no place whatsoever) by giving it the alias of "intelligent design," and Texas rewriting the textbooks for its students with a white-conservative slant, but now we've got PC fanatics trying to censor a great work of literature simply because of a word that meant something far different in its time (not to mention that you see plenty of black people today using it like it's nothing!). Not to mention that yes, too many people refer to women as female dogs, and yes, it DOES bug us! It's the 21st century, for crying out loud!

Although I think it's ironic that people take such pleasure in denigrating us, yet they have no problem with guys named Dick! Think about it....

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | January 5, 2011 9:24 AM

"Censoring" classics is one of the most ridiculous things I ever heard of. The fact is, any word used to point out that the race of another person is different from one's own will only remain acceptable as long as it remains novel, like "African American" is today, or "Black" was yesterday, or "Afro-American" was the day before that, or "Negro" was before that. Once any such term comes into common usage it becomes a sign of bigotry and therefore offensive. This is because such words, no matter how inoffensively intended, are racist in their very most basic essence -- they are calling someone something because they look different.

So much history was lost because of the censorship engaged in by previous generations. The works of Livy and Tacitus were lost to Catholic domination in the dark ages. Next we will see what remnants are left of Tacitus censored to edit out his unflattering references to the Jews.

This has got to be stopped.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | January 5, 2011 9:26 AM

"Anybody hurt?"

"No'm, killed nigger."

This is the most powerful dialog I've ever read. I learned so much from it. Don't touch it!

Posted by: Three3 | January 5, 2011 9:35 AM

Do people think replacing a word in a book will undo history? It was an OFFENSIVE time in our history.

History SHOULD offend people. How else can we learn from it? The idiots who want to do this probably don't read anyway; they'd be in danger of learning something they don't like.

Posted by: cb11 | January 5, 2011 9:45 AM

Mark Twain called dark-skinned people of African ancestry "niggers". Taking offense from the words of a long dead writer is the act of an irrational person. And irrationality is completely undeserving of any protection whatsoever.

If you want to put an suffix, prefix, or even a footnote in the text to explain the contextual or historic use of the term, fine. If you want to do the same to disavow agreement, implied or otherwise, with the views of the author, that's an act of cowardice.

james90 makes the most telling observation: Nigger Jim in the beginning of the story is just an object, Jim at the end of the story is a friend, a human being with all the needs and feelings we all need an deserve.

Posted by: mhoust | January 5, 2011 9:49 AM

I think they should straighten out the eyes on all of Picasso's paintings and finish colorizing all black and white films before getting to work on defacing the literary classics. There are also some sculptures, like Michelangelo's "David" that could benefit from a little chisel work.

Posted by: mycroftt | January 5, 2011 10:28 AM

Yet you can rap it and make millions.

Another excellent example is the bar fight scene from Rush Hour.

On screen and and cable tv Tucker and Chan get to use the N word.

On broadcast Chan gets beat up for saying "what's up my negro?".

Posted by: krankyman | January 5, 2011 10:33 AM

The N-word is only racist if a white person uses it. It is OK for black men to use it any time they want, because no black person is racist.

It is also wrong for white people to criticise black people for using the B*tch word or "Ho" for women, since they are criticising black culture, which is racist.

Black people cannot control their violent emotions when they see a Confederate flag, so white people need to stop showing the flag anywhere, lest it offend all the blacks who have sensitive seelings.

Showing that white heroes, such as Washington, were all evil bast*rds because they owned black people, is OK, but to point out moral failings in black heroes, such as Martin King, is racist.

Blacks can be rude and hateful to Jews, Hispanics, Orientals, Native Americans, gays and other minorities, since black people are not racist. But if they say anything rude to black people, they are all racist.

Black cultural objects, such as movies, rap music or comics, can attack white culture all they want, but it is racist for any white, Arab, Asian or gay American comic or radio announcer to even mention blacks.

It is wrong to offend someone who is easily offended and who has their feelings hurt. These victims must be protected at all costs to the civil society, because they might burst out in tears at any momnet if they hear a bad word or see a Confederate flag. It sure is nice to live in an open society!

Posted by: LeeH1 | January 5, 2011 11:12 AM

The word hasn't passed from usage in the language and I'm not convinced that substituting "slave" for it in all cases would be synonymous. But readers can choose for themselves. They should consider removing and abridging sections too, so that no one confuses the two works. A "Reader's Digest" version of some literature is preferred to the actual text or Cliff's Notes in some instances. Seeing the story on film can help to get the plot and action down so progress can be made on other topics.

Posted by: blasmaic | January 5, 2011 11:16 AM

Anyone would be offended by the N-word in "Huck Finn" doesn't get the point. It's not just that the language is historically accurate. It's also that the novel is a powerful condemnation of racism and of other poisonous belief systems, such as the honor culture that pervaded and still pervades much of the nation.

Posted by: Carstonio | January 5, 2011 11:18 AM

By the way, Mark Twain didn't call black people niggers. Huck did. It's not an insignificant difference.

Posted by: thoward1223 | January 5, 2011 11:20 AM

Are we now going to examine all books and expurgate any language which some folks might find unacceptable? Maybe we should change the scene in which Tom and Huck dress up as girls? Why not call Injun Joe Native American Joe? Muff Potter contains a slang term that denigrates women so should that be altered? Huck's father was a drunk - maybe he is now alcoholically challenged? While we're at it, maybe we could alter every nude painting to satisfy all the blue-noses as the Smithsonian did recently. Leave the past alone - do not whitewash - do not revise - do not censor.

Posted by: jharris99 | January 5, 2011 11:22 AM

The "n word" is used to illustrate the fact that Huck is actually inferior to Jim, but it also shows how Huck grew to see Jim not as a slave but as a person. The minorities and liberal whites upset about this greatest of American novels must collectively have reading comprehensions of a gnat.

Posted by: grantpaten | January 5, 2011 11:31 AM

As a liberal since the day I was born over 66 years ago, this Twain fiasco is an embarrassment. It's treating readers as simpleminded infants, with no capability of understanding anything out of the realm of their own immediate experience. "Condescending" is far too polite a word for it. This is the same mentality that gets all hot and bothered by comedians like Richard Pryor.

The bottom line is this: If you're looking to be offended, you will be. But please do the rest of us a favor and just grow up.

Posted by: andym108 | January 5, 2011 11:36 AM

This is like proposing to modernize ancient art using digital technology.

Art should be left alone, as it represents both the sentiments and ideas of their time period.

Rewriting history doesn't change history, it just obscures the truth, and our understanding of it.

Posted by: Benson | January 5, 2011 11:40 AM

I believe the essence of the Mark Twain quote is actually in comparing the lightning with the lightning bug, which you unfortunately omitted.

I also think if we had living writers as delightful and talented as Samuel Clemens to admire in the United States, we probably wouldn't even be having this discussion.

Posted by: Chanijo | January 5, 2011 11:42 AM

The point Twain was trying to make was to show how evil one man can be to another. Huck and Jim are the only characters with any smarts and those who spout off on N's and slaves are shown to be the bigoted idiots they were. Sanitizing the book takes away the message that Twain was making. Don't change a word of it!

Posted by: GenuineRisk | January 5, 2011 12:10 PM

I had prepared an entire defense of Twain's use of "Nigger", but then I saw Twain's own response to a Boston librarian when asked to defend his books against the charge that they should be banned "due to their coarseness, deceitfulness, and mischievous practices." From the Christian Science Monitor 1/5/2011:

"Twain responded: "I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote 'Tom Sawyer' & 'Huck Finn' for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave."

"Nigger" was not common usage among Twain's readership -- they considered it cursing. He used the word to make them uncomfortable with their own smugness and their attitudes of race and class. Apparently his rhetorical technique is still working.

Posted by: deliriousindc | January 5, 2011 12:14 PM

Absolutely ABSURD & RIDICULOUS! What's next? Censored 'All in The Family' reruns? Folks these days are TOO PC. It amazes me how offended people become when even acknowldeging stereotypes... as if there is not even a grain of truth to them. Folks need to step back, take a deep breath, & learn to choose their battles more wisely.

Posted by: The_Funknician | January 5, 2011 12:39 PM

Someone should have used the N-word at the beginning of this misbegotten project: NO!

Posted by: ex-Virginian4 | January 5, 2011 12:44 PM

The literature of a particular period in time serves to remind us of the history and culture of that time. How are we to understand either in the future if we keep adulterating literature with the language and mores of a later generation? I believe that we need to understand the past to understand how we came to be where we are now. Removing the word from literature of an earlier age isn't going to mean that this word was not in common use at the time. What it will mean to future generations if this type of editing takes hold is that they will never fully understand this part of our history.

Posted by: Robin-Leilani | January 5, 2011 12:54 PM

Perhaps we need a law requiring a statement on the title page explaining what alterations have been made to the text, like in movies.

E.g. This book has been modified from the original text. Racial epithets have been replaced with euphemisms.

This would allow those who want their literature sanitized to get the book they want, while the rest of us will not accidentally buy this dreck.

It will also prevent us from accidentally buying bestsellers that have been translated from English to American (I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in the original).

Posted by: bbabcoc1 | January 5, 2011 1:12 PM

I suppose revised New South editions of the Bible and Shakespeare are forthcoming, then.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 5, 2011 1:14 PM

I suppose revised New South editions of the Bible and Shakespeare are forthcoming, then.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 5, 2011 1:14 PM

literature should never ever be changed, offensive or not! EVER!

Posted by: ggrant9170 | January 5, 2011 1:15 PM

deliriousindc: a great a man who truly understood his audience; too bad today's audience (or at least some of it) hasn't changed in 120 years :-)

Posted by: mil1 | January 5, 2011 1:24 PM

Awful idea! Why are we trying to sanitize literature? Students and ESPECIALLY parents should have the common sense to understand that these books are products of their time.

English lit teachers teaching "Huckleberry Finn" should have their students discuss the use of the n-word in historical and modern contexts.

Although to be fair, when I was in high school a few years ago, my lit teacher also had the terrible idea of having us read Huckleberry Finn out loud. Awkward: 11th graders trying to figure out what to say when they reach the n-word.

Posted by: megantron | January 5, 2011 1:25 PM

to quote the genius, Mark Twain, himself, "the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug" ...

Twain used the word DELIBERATELY! ... it's there to convey the COMMONER's conception of slaves/blacks as chattle (once while Huck was trying to disguise himself and again while weighing the morallity of returning Jim to Miss Watson) the statement: "There was the Sunday school, you could a gone to it; and if you'd a done it they'd a learnt you, there, that people that acts as I'd been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire." - shows the CHRISTIAN COMMONER's ("moral") view which is rejected by Huck when he says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell"

the notion that he had stolen property and would go to hell for it (as he was taught) didn't keep him from doing the right thing - helping Jim obtain his freedom (the truely moral position) ...

as for those who are so presumtuous rewriting Twain's masterpiece, i have only this to say - GO OUT AND WRITE YOUR OWN F'N BOOK - with your fourth grade education and your shallow understanding of this classic, you are sure to be the next great writer of the century

Posted by: scratchycactus | January 5, 2011 1:36 PM

A cask by losing centre-piece or cant
Was never shattered so, as I saw one
Rent from the chin to where one breaketh wind.

Between his legs were hanging down his entrails;
His heart was visible, and the dismal sack
That maketh excrement of what is eaten.

While I was all absorbed in seeing him,
He looked at me, and opened with his hands
His bosom, saying: "See now how I rend me;

How mutilated, see, is Mahomet;
In front of me doth Ali weeping go,
Cleft in the face from forelock unto chin;

And all the others whom thou here beholdest,
Disseminators of scandal and of schism
While living were, and therefore are cleft thus.

A devil is behind here, who doth cleave us
Thus cruelly, unto the falchion's edge
Putting again each one of all this ream,

When we have gone around the doleful road;
By reason that our wounds are closed again
Ere any one in front of him repass.

- Dante's Inferno, Canto 28

Is this next on the chopping block by the PC police?

Posted by: shewholives | January 5, 2011 1:51 PM

Isn't liberalism wonderful?

Posted by: tmonahan54 | January 5, 2011 1:56 PM

This whole idea is doubleplusungood.

Are they going to hire Winston Smith to do the editing?

God Bless America.

Posted by: tiger_caddy_31 | January 5, 2011 2:07 PM

If'n y'all 'r done with Twain, can you please do something with those nasty words of Moses--all that blood, gore, sexism, and yes, even sex. And some of those prophets are way over the line. The Bible should be as nice as Huck Finn.

Posted by: trh123 | January 5, 2011 2:26 PM

My white self follows one golden rule of speech: I never use language Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy would not use in a live performance.

Posted by: qoph | January 5, 2011 2:28 PM

What a stupid society we are becoming. We'll be reduced to grunts to avoid offending the coddled group du jour.

Posted by: wmpowellfan | January 5, 2011 3:52 PM

The purpose of a serious novel is not to make readers "comfortable" but to portray reality, including the fact that a person of Huck's background would have used the n-word. His use of the word is a key indicator of the bias he has to overcome to view Jim as an equal. I can see how young readers might be distressed by the term, but it should not be changed.

Posted by: DavefromDetroit | January 5, 2011 4:18 PM

Leaving aside the (many) literary arguments against making the change, it troubles me that slavery is more "comfortable" to us than name-calling. We shouldn't be comfortable with slavery, just as using such a derogatory term as nigger *should* make us cringe a little.

And for what it's worth, my own personal preference would to be called a nigger rather than to be sold into slavery. Those who favor the opposite will appriate this edition, I guess.

Posted by: esleigh | January 5, 2011 4:58 PM

If the only thing that is stopping some schools from assigning Huckleberry Finn or some other book is the use of a particular word, I think replacing that word in an edition aimed at children is fine as long as the fact is noted on the cover or title page. But even without that word, readers should remember that Huckleberry Finn is not Tom Sawyer--it's strong stuff indeed.

Posted by: dclc | January 5, 2011 6:00 PM

Changing Mark Twains book, is stepping out of line. We are all Americans, and I would hope by now, we know what we did wrong, and what we have done right. Re writing someone prose, is not going to change, were we came from, and how we got to this point.

Posted by: dangreen3 | January 5, 2011 6:02 PM

At least they didn't say "African-Americans."

Posted by: Three3 | January 5, 2011 7:12 PM

A niger is a niger is a niger!

Posted by: ravitchn | January 5, 2011 7:15 PM

Are they going to rewrite the part where Huck's conscience is tortured by the idea that he has done something wrong by stealing Jim, a slave, someone else's property, and that he stands to lose his soul, as he has been taught in Sunday school:

"There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you'd a done it they'd a learnt you there that people that acts as I'd been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire."

Huck struggles with this dilemma and goes as far as writing a note that would turn Jim over to the slave owner, yet, he can't bring himself to send the note, and chooses damnation instead:

"It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll GO to hell"—and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog."

Do we want to offend Sunday school teachers by pointing out that they used to defend the practice of slavery? Perhaps Huck should turn in Jim so that Huck can spend eternity in heaven.

Those people who want to change one word, because it offends them, should read all of the other words and think harder about what they mean. There is great humanity in Huckleberry Finn, for anyone who cares to read the book without judging it by the presence of one word.

The book is a masterpiece. Leave it alone. The words in it are true and a product of the time in which the book was written.

Posted by: neverthetwain | January 5, 2011 8:28 PM

For an early example of how far this sort of stuff can be carried, check out Stan Freberg's "Elderly Man River" on Youtube.

Posted by: Three3 | January 5, 2011 9:00 PM

"Yet another ridiculous example of revisionist history. The past cannot be changed, only how we regard it."

Padre1957, there is nothing inherently wrong with revisionist history. New documents and primary sources are discovered all the time that shed new light on an event and, consequentially, our understanding of history needs to be updated. I'm sure you know this, but it really bugs me when people use the term "revisionist history" in a pejorative way.

Posted by: samiles96 | January 6, 2011 12:49 AM

The fact is that Huckleberry Finn has been banned in almost all schools for decades because one of the main characters is often referred to as Nigger Jim.

The motives for the new text revision are entirely commercial, but I very much doubt the publishers will be successful. Huck is still free and Jim is still a slave, and the schools aren't going to want to teach any book that suggests something like that is (or was) a normal condition of affairs.

Posted by: corco02az | January 6, 2011 5:04 AM

George Orwell would understand the impulse to rewrite history.

Posted by: TomODonnell | January 6, 2011 6:10 AM

Of course we should change novels, history texts, any other documents.
To please some Germans we could portray Hitler as an able administrator,we could portray the genocide of native Americans as if it never happened, the Klan could become a social organization,
we could all be living dumb and happy in Pleasantville. What could be wrong with that?

Posted by: jmm2 | January 6, 2011 6:12 AM

The novel is out of copyright, therefore anybody can legally re-write it in any manner. If the only planned change is the systematic replacement of one word with another, one would hope that the edit would be explained on the cover -- maybe a title change -- Huck Finn Without That N-Word, perhaps? An overrated novel anyway. But don't get me started on the edited Dr. Seuss that's been coming out since the Great Man's death....

Posted by: los22 | January 6, 2011 6:36 AM

Typical sick, lame brained liberal political correctness run amok.

Posted by: LarryG62 | January 6, 2011 7:53 AM

"Padre1957, there is nothing inherently wrong with revisionist history. New documents and primary sources are discovered all the time that shed new light on an event and, ...."

What you're describing is revised history. The agenda here is 'we want to know what really happened.'

The term revisionist history implies another agenda, a desire to control knowledge of what happened for a purpose, religious or political in nature. The agenda here is 'we want you to believe what we want' ... for these people, the truth is just another version of the story.

Posted by: eezmamata | January 6, 2011 8:04 AM

WE can not change the past by rewriting what we do not like. To not know our history we repeat it.

Posted by: peep1935 | January 6, 2011 8:05 AM

Let me suggest that they make one minor change to the word: "ni2ger".

Posted by: hipshot | January 6, 2011 8:09 AM

Will we sanitize history to make ourselves "comfortable"?

Posted by: Utahreb | January 6, 2011 8:09 AM

If words don't matter, if the time and place of the work doesn't matter, if the author's own voice doesn't matter, we can change anything we want to. But to those of us who are educated, these things do matter.

Anyone who reads a "revised classic" simply won't know what it really said. How is that education?

Posted by: SherlockHolmes | January 6, 2011 8:39 AM

They are not re-writting anything. The story, the ideas are all identical. The kids reasing the story are not the ones being offended. I can bet they don't care at all. It is the parents and "advocates" that seem to have this issues and they are the ones who had the book banned in so many disctricts. Would it not be better to change a single word (which still implies the same meaning that Twain wanted) and have the kids be able to read this classic, than let the few parents who can't get over the word issue themselves keep it locked away from the education of yet another generation?

Posted by: schnauzer21 | January 6, 2011 8:40 AM

It's the difference between 'lightning bug' and 'lightning insect'.

Posted by: johnnymarsh20051 | January 6, 2011 8:44 AM

"it troubles me that slavery is more 'comfortable' to us than name-calling"

Excellent point. This isn't a liberal or a conservative issue. This is the act of a few well-meaning people who are apparently blind to the larger message of the novel. One doesn't have to hold any particular political philosophy or allegiance to recognize that context matters.

Posted by: Carstonio | January 6, 2011 9:08 AM

ok, so let me get this straight there is debate over whether a book should replace the word "nigger" with the word "slave", and in the debate the word "nigger" is replaced with the word "N-word". Not only should it be left in, but it should be written and spoken in this debate. Because 20 years ago, that large southern man who said to his colleage about me "Give that nigga a dolla and send him on down the road" probably hadn't read Huck Finn. Historical perspective is important.....10 seconds ago is history

Posted by: whoamitosay11 | January 6, 2011 9:35 AM

Having voted "no," I should qualify my stance on the issue. I can possibly understand bowdlerizing H. Finn in an edition aimed specifically at young children - and by "young," I mean below high school age. There's a long literary history of creating age-appropriate "re-tellings" of classic literature for children.

However, no adult should be so "offended" by the presence of offensive language that they refuse to read a great work or try to have it removed from library shelves. Context is everything. The mere presence of an offensive word doesn't mean the book or its author are racist.

Posted by: Bugs3 | January 6, 2011 9:47 AM

It's not like kids don't hear that word all the time in popular music.

Maybe we should just replace the "er" at the end of the word with an "a." Not only would that make the text more up-to-date and relevant, but it would actually make Twain cool in the eyes of today's youth.

Posted by: AirPirate | January 6, 2011 9:57 AM

"Mark Twain" would not have a problem with this idea. After all he even prepared his own autobiography with an assumption that times change. In this case, sections of the autobiography were not to be published until a century had passed while other sections were immediately available. Above all, Mr. Clemens wanted what all writers want, to be read and if that required a few edits, he'd have had no problem. He was a very practical fellow and of course that was part of his genius.

Posted by: stevenleibo | January 6, 2011 10:16 AM

Nigger is found in "To Kill a Mockingbird" as well. May I assume the re-write is in the works?

Posted by: Davidd1 | January 6, 2011 10:26 AM

Horrible idea. Please don't let him do it. I'm a "white" Southerner and have never been able to say the word and, yes, even seeing it printed makes me cringe. It should. That's what Mark Twain intended.

Posted by: alabsh | January 6, 2011 10:28 AM

FOr the most part, those that object to the "N" word don't read classics like Tom Sawyer anyway so what is the big deal. Further, because the people we are trying not to offend use the word very frequently anyway...again, what is the big deal. Mark Twain wrote what he wrote at a time when it was the custom. Leave it alone. If you don't like it........then don't read it. This is so damn rediculous! People who worry about this would do better to focus their energies on the problemw ith 75?% of the children of these "people" being born out of wedlock and the incredible drop out rate in our high schools there chidren manifest.

Posted by: ransr01 | January 6, 2011 11:25 AM

While someone in an academic Ivory Tower someplace expunges the N word from literature, the student he means to protect puts on his iPod several rap songs with that very word. When people criticize that word in current rap songs, that same Ivory Tower guy calls people racist for interfering with art.

Go figure.

Posted by: kamdog | January 6, 2011 11:45 AM

alabsh - I salute you

ransr01 - who are these "people"? I don't think it is these "people" who have a problem with's just a poll...but to let you know, these "people" have written many AMERICAN classics that I dare haven't read...

Posted by: whoamitosay11 | January 6, 2011 11:51 AM

"marcmacdonald wrote: The movie stars of the 1950s will no longer be holding cigarettes, but they will instead have a candy cane or a pen between their fingers. Ludicrous, right?"

Actually, that is exactly what happened with prohibition - paintings that showed G. Washington holding a chalice - or one with a wine carage on the table were altered to remove the alcohol.

Ludicrous, indeed.

Posted by: Greent | January 6, 2011 11:53 AM

That's why it's called HISTORY????? The PC in this country has gone overbaord. That's a GREAT point about rap songs!!!

Posted by: MDlady2 | January 6, 2011 12:06 PM

I think it's important to keep this offensive word in its original context, if for no other reason than to underscore that we have made SOME minimal progress in race over the past 150 years. If, however, I should hear someone use this word in my presence, I reserve my right to punch them in the nose or throw something at them.

Posted by: Tony83703 | January 6, 2011 12:21 PM

Maybe they should edit 1984 to remove all references to Communism.

Posted by: AxelDC | January 6, 2011 3:34 PM

Nigger Jim was perhaps the most heroic character in American literature. Twain used the pajoritive deliberately to set the tone when this man makes an incredible sacrifice to save a white id from bleeding to death. That was correct use of the term then, and it still has the same power. My white middle school boys all wanted to play "Nigger Jim" in a school play. My sole Black student insisted that it was his right to play the part, and was proud to be called "Nigger Jim" on stage. None of my students ever considered using the word toward him or anyone else after we discussed the word, its origins, and why ti was appropriate in this instance.

Posted by: Danl_P | January 6, 2011 4:33 PM

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