Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Argument For and Against Censoring Huckleberry Finn

Last night, news of Huckleberry Finn’s upcoming censorship was announced by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (video here). This announcement has been floating around local news media for about a week, but this was the first time I saw it from a major network news source. Clearly, the decision to alter one of America’s greatest literary works had stirred enough debate to bring it to this level, so I felt the need to declare my stance as well.

The only problem is that I don’t really have one. I can see both sides – so here is my argument for and against censoring Mark Twain’s classic work of fiction.

For Censorship

Because The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is part of the public domain, uncensored editions will always be available both online and from any publisher who chooses to print it with the dasterdly “N-word” still in place. If anything, removing language that some would regard as vulgar is only making the work more accessible. As an middle school teacher I would never suggest the book to a student. While I understand the cultural and historical background of the book, the student – and his/her parent – may not. And it’s not one scene that can be skipped over – the offending word appears 214 times throughout the book. Now that a version is available with some of this content softened, the book can now be read and enjoyed by those people who would have been too myopically focused on the predominance of a word that is no longer culturally acceptable.

Celbrities also say that any publicity – even negative publicity – is good publicity. The same can be true of this censorship story. People are again talking about Huckleberry Finn, a story that was written more than 130 years ago. For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is currently the #2 download on Project Gutenberg, trumped only by The Karma Sutra. It is again on the minds of Americans, and no one can argue that as a bad thing. If a little controversy is the cause, then so be it.

Against Censorship

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not the first, nor the last book to be published with inappropriate language. This language was not included by Twain as a vulgarity – it was simply part of the American lexicon in the 1800s. If Huckleberry Finn deserves scrutiny, then it is only fair that we uphold this standard for all other books – especially those we are currently publishing and embracing as a society.

Take, for example, the recent release by MTV reality star, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from the embarassingly crass Jersey Shore. It is a work of fiction that cronicals two girls and their exploits – one of which is a graffic retelling of a date rape scene. Here is the quote:
"This girl was putting up a fight. Most whores would just give in at this point
and accept the situation they were in. If she ate the dinner, took the gifts,
came home with you, she was obliged to put out. If she changed her mind and
didn't want to? Too bad. Things might get a little rough. She deserved what

In an interview yesterday with Ellen Degeneres, Polizzi admitted that the book is targeted toward early teenagers.

Why is it okay for a recent book – esentially young adult fiction – to condone rape, yet a book written 130 years ago cannot contain a word that was regarded as casual diction at the time it was written?

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1 Responses:

Anonymous said...

It's Kama Sutra, not Karma Sutra.