Restrospective censorship, Mark Twain and the "n" word

The publication of a new edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn sans “offensive” words is beyond bizarre.

Professor Alan Gribben, whose bright idea this was, claims that he brought out the edition because the proliferation of the word “nigger” in the book meant that far too many institutions were uncomfortable with teaching it. He’s replaced it with “slave”.

This is actually understandable. I think I’d feel pretty uncomfortable getting schoolchildren to say “nigger” out loud, or even reading the word out loud to them (though I’m genuinely baffled as to why Gribben changed “Injun” to “Indian”. Perhaps it’s a US cultural thing I’m missing. Any explanation appreciated).

But the problem is, when I read a line of dialogue, or even narration out loud, it’s not “me” speaking. It’s the character, or the author. If we are to teach children literature, then this is the key thing they’ll have to grasp from the start.

As important is the realisation that the world we inhabit is not the only world. It is foolish to pretend that the world in Twain’s time is the same as the world now.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.