Huckleberry Finn modified

By Isaac Himmelman

Courtesy Gutenberg Project

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” turns 126 years old this month. The book has become about as quintessentially American as foreclosed homes and promoting democracy. Every year American high school students from sea to shining sea spend two hours on the night before their final essay is due in class, skimming sparknotes.com and praying to their respective gods for a grading curve.

Now somebody brilliant at NewSouth Books publishing house in good ‘ol Montgomery, Ala. must have looked as his calendar and said out loud to an intern, “Oh! Huck Finn is turning 126 years old soon. How can we here at NewSouth cash in on this milestone event?”

After a brief meeting of the editorial staff, the folks at NewSouth, whose combined brainpower would no doubt melt us all into a puddle, had the genius idea to publish a brand new edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” with one slight modification. All mentions of the n-word – which is always offensive regardless of context (except when rappers use it) – will be replaced with the politically correct term “slave.” According to the NewSouth website we can rest assured that NewSouth is only doing this to “help the works find new readers.”

I, for one, think this is a marvelous idea. By replacing all uses of the n-word with the word “slave” NewSouth will attract scores of new readers who, in the past, avoided the novel due to its racial insensitivity.

As was to be expected, a bunch of literary purists in typical literary purist fashion claim that to replace Twain’s use of the n-word with the word “slave” would somehow reduce the work and remove its historical context. In Smith College’s paper The Sophian, Katie Thorp writes that to censor the use of the n-word, “deprives [students] of an accurate picture of both the time period in question and of Twain as a writer.”

Um, Katie, NewSouth is trying to “help the works find new readers.” It’s all well and good to give students an accurate picture of time periods or whatever, but none of that amounts to hickory smoke if no one is reading the book in the first place.

I, for one, never read “Huckleberry Finn.” When it was assigned to me by Ms. Frew in eleventh grade English I decided against reading it, not because of adolescent idleness, but rather on principle. I was terribly offended by Twain’s use of the n-word. Had Ms. Frew provided us with copies of the text that opted to use the word “slave” instead of the n-word, I would have read the novel with pleasure.

I was honestly so disturbed by Twain’s racial insensitivity in “Huckleberry Finn” that I was unable to read any of the assigned novels that year. In fact, knowing early on that I would be assigned “Huckleberry Finn” at some point in eleventh grade left me unable to read any school books beginning in ninth  grade and continuing on through senior year.

Thankfully, NewSouth will be publishing the sanitized edition of Twain’s novel this month. I will now be able to go back and read not only “Huckleberry Finn,” but also “Moby Dick,” the “Scarlett Letter” and “Catcher and the Rye,” as well as a host of other books I was unable to read in high school due to Mark Twain’s ignorance and racism.

Yet replacing the n-word with the word “slave” is just the beginning. In keeping with NewSouth’s stated goals, I’ve devised a complimentary system of attracting new readers. Again, due to my extreme racial sensitivity I have never actually read “Huckleberry Finn.” From what I could glean off Wikipedia, however, the novel contains not a single mention of puppies. If the folks at NewSouth truly want to attract new readers to Huck Finn, I suggest they replace all mentions of the word “captain” with the word “puppy.”

For example, page 14 could now read, “’Steam boat puppies is always rich. Come on Jim! …In the puppy cabin we glimpsed a man tied up on the floor with two men standing over him.”

Better?

Of course it’s better. By bringing in that much needed puppy element to an otherwise puppy-less novel, NewSouth publishing will indeed “help the works find new readers,” because everyone loves puppies. Mark Twain loved puppies. And if he didn’t then he’s an animal hater. Therefore, not only shouldn’t we be reading his filthy novels, we should be burning them in the streets. Also, NewSouth, while you’re at it, I feel the novel could use more hot chicks and more full frontal nudity. Thank you.

Isaac Himmelman is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]