Another look at Twain

A lot of schools would like to include Mark Twain in their curricula, but they can’t anymore. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the “n” word appears 219 times.

So an English professor is producing a new version — the New South version — which strips the book of the ingredients that have gotten it banned from many schools.

“I’m hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified,” Alan Gribben told Publishers Weekly. “Already, one professor told me that he is very disappointed that I was involved in this.”

A UCLA Twain scholar, however, says “a book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn’t challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?’ ”

In 2007, parents in St. Louis Park tried to get it banned from a 10th grade honors class. One parent told the Star Tribune at the time that his North Carolina class tried the UCLA scholar’s approach. It didn’t work. “Why were there so many usages of the same word?” he said. “We never got to the story line. It was the racial issue.”

  • John P.

    “We never got to the story line. It was the racial issue.”

    Maybe the racial issue is more important than one story. I say work through that, THEN read the story. Pretending racism does/did not exist will not solve the problem.

  • In my view, the use of the n word in the book should, if anything, be a springboard for teaching rather than something to be feared. How hard would it be to bridge history and sociology and the history of language into the English curriculum by having a discussion of the issue. The students might actually be asked to think, give their opinions and wrestle with the issue.

    Of course, since all that sort of thing isn’t found in our test-mad culture, its pie-in-the-sky dreaming. This is one reason I decided not to continue to pursue a career in Education.

  • Heather

    I think the teaching context matters a LOT. I had to teach this book to 10th graders once, and it WAS hard. There was no supporting context in our curriculum at that level, and the kids had trouble getting past the language (which they found hurtful) to the meaning no matter how I framed it. In retrospect, I wish I’d thought to show “Blazing Saddles” to them before we started reading.

    Then, the text was moved to English 11, which at that school focused primarily on rhetoric. By the time the kids got to Huck Finn, they had a solid grounding in those techniques and the language to discuss the book in terms of the argument it makes. Went much better for everyone.

  • Heather

    I think the teaching context matters a LOT. I had to teach this book to 10th graders once, and it WAS hard. There was no supporting context in our curriculum at that level, and the kids had trouble getting past the language (which they found hurtful) to the meaning no matter how I framed it. In retrospect, I wish I’d thought to show “Blazing Saddles” to them before we started reading.

    Then, the text was moved to English 11, which at that school focused primarily on rhetoric. By the time the kids got to Huck Finn, they had a solid grounding in those techniques and the language to discuss the book in terms of the argument it makes. Went much better for everyone.