Huck Finn, sanitized
Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a genuine American classic and one of the greatest works in the history of literature, American or otherwise, is being re-released in a new, cleansed version that takes out the words "nigger," as well as "Injun," the one-word, over-hyped source of controversy that has seen the book, as Publishers Weekly puts it, "disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books."
This, to me, is utterly despicable, a concession to the forces of censorship and oppression. Yes, the book in its new, adulterated version will likely find many new readers, particularly young people, but it won't really be Huck Finn anymore, the timeless masterpiece that Twain wrote, a book written at a certain time and place, including a word or two that justifiably are no longer acceptable, but a book sanitized to appeal to a new time and place, today's America, that apparently is too immature to appreciate the book's, and the author's, context.
No, taking out the word "nigger" certainly doesn't mean that the rest of the book is compromised or worthless. Admittedly, the book even in this version remains a masterpiece, and perhaps the introduction will explain what has been changed.
But it's a slippery slope. Changing an undesirable word here or there, without the author's approval, can lead to more substantive changes that really do undermine the author's intent. This is sort of like what happened in the movie Cinema Paradiso, when sexually-repressive authorities in Italy edited out all the kissing scenes. A kiss is a kiss, sure, not an objectionable word, but the result is still censorship.
The fact is, the word "nigger" used to be used in common parlance, and we don't even have to go back to Twain's time for that. Isn't it better to tell people the truth, and to educate them about its context, than to hide it, to pretend that the realities of the past, including the ugliness, linguistic or otherwise, didn't exist? Are today's children, coming to Huck Finn for the first time, simply to believe, erroneously, that the word was never used? Why not take out references to slavery altogether? Why not turn Huck Finn into a picture book for two-year olds?
It's dangerous to revise the past this way, especially through censorship. It means that we lose touch with the past, that we do not even have the opportunity to understand the past as it was, to read books as they were meant to be read, to be forced to confront that which may not be pleasant, that which may challenge our self-righteous presumptions and biases. In this case, over time, over generations, the very essence of Huck Finn may be lost altogether, all because a single word was changed, all because the censors won.