Tuesday, January 04, 2011


While growing up, I held pretty much to the usual analysis of the use of racial slurs in Mark Twain's work, especially Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn--wondering what possessed many activists about the books, knowing that "well it was just accepted words back in the day."  Then, when I read them as an adult, I realized that in certain places, Mr. Clemens was using "that word" as an insult--like when Huck says "I'll be a ......" regarding certain situations where he felt humiliated.  Yes, Jim uses it without perjury regarding himself, but there clearly were cruel uses of the word even at that time.

And so count me conflicted that a group is editing "those words" out of Twain's work.  While reading it, I was struck by the their frequency (don't ya know other words, Mr. Clemens?), but at a certain point, "those words" do indeed contribute to the story--Huck's use of "that word" as an insult contrasts with how he realizes Jim's wonderful humanity, and Twain's use of "that word" (and other words) draws a historical picture of life on the Big Muddy--which is in part erased if we bowdlerize his work. 

I also have to wonder what the editing process is doing to the rest of his work--editors, not being skillful enough to get published on their own, tend to damage the rhythms that the original authors used, making even Shakespeare the literary equivalent of, say, this blog instead of a masterwork.  Yes, ceterus parabus, Twain without "that word" would be a good thing, but I'm afraid that when this is done, there will be a lot more of a third rate writer doing the editing than the work of Mr. Clemens.  In other words, ceterus parabus isn't applicable here.


Gino said...

i remember being taught about the backward minded churchmen who later added fig leaves to michaelangelo's works.
the lesson being that some folks are too rediculously stupid;y offended to appreciate the beauty of the work's totality.

this is the same thing.

Bike Bubba said...

Not willing to appreciate Michelangelo, and....at the same time unable to see some of his faults as well.

As with Mr. Clemens, or Mr. Twain.