Allahpundit passed on the topic yesterday because he couldn’t imagine a prominent liberal dumb enough to defend the idea of censoring “Huck Finn” to save it. Allahpundit acknowledged today that he hadn’t counted on Nick Kristof:
If censoring Huck Finn will help get a great book back on h.s. reading lists, isn’t that worth it?
Once Allahpundit spoke up, his take was typically pithy and on point:
It’s historically false, it betrays Twain’s intent, it sets a horrible revisionist precedent for other great works, and maybe worst of all, it misses the point of why the slurs are there. Twain’s goal, of course, wasn’t to gratuitously dehumanize blacks, it was to use the sympathy you feel for Jim to make you feel the injustice of that casual day-to-day dehumanization. . . . [W]hat kind of high school teacher are you if you can’t explain the difference between a racist book and a book that uses racist language to argue against racism?
They had great fun with this over at Reason.com, where one wag suggested that the “Twain scholar” was about to come out with a new Melville edition titled “Moby Penis.” But the best comment was from a fellow who reprinted this central passage from the book:
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter–and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
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.
If you don’t read the book at all, you need only read this passage to get a good sense of it.
Yeah, let’s censor that.
Don’t you want to wring the necks of the idiots who want to alter writing like this in any way?
If you don’t, you’re a better (and less violent) man than I.
UPDATE: If you’d like to listen to the “scholar” who is screwing with this classic work, you may do so by clicking here. From the transcript:
Absolutely. And that’s why I only fucked with the one word. But that word has proved to be quite a hurdle for many younger readers, their parents and their teachers.
. . . .
Well, there are nine references to the N-word in “Tom Sawyer,” and those were bowdlerized to slave. And the debasement of the native peoples, I think, has probably proceeded far enough.
I also retired the archaic Injun term and – however, I left the racial denominator Indian because it helps explain why the villain in the story feels so alienated from the village as the frontier has receded away from the village and he’s stranded there and treated, he feels, disrespectfully.
. . . .
Why is this word so precious to some people? I just don’t understand. You would think that that is just the most precious word in the English language, the way some people grow defensive about it. Oh, it must be in there. It must be in there. And yet slave hardly carries any good connotations. It’s abhorrent in the civilized world today and works very well, I think, in this book. And again, I just want to emphasize that person is free not to purchase the book, not to read the book and to turn to the other authoritative editions that I recommend.
Thanks for that freedom, Mr. Scholar!! (Which, I bet, you’d like to take away from me.) But it’s good to know that — for now, at least! — it’s OK with this cretin if we go ahead and read the version Twain actually wrote.
By the way, I tampered with only one word in quoting that transcript. And by “one,” I mean two.* But you are free, of course, to follow the link to the actual transcript, and read that, instead of the version I screwed with. So, you know, it’s all good.