The censorship of Huckleberry Finn

By: Guest Authors

By: Sarah Bolton

There has been recent debate whether to censor Mart Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; more specifically to remove the “n-word”, which appears no less than 219 times, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Instead of this offensive word, they will substitute in the word “slave”.

Many people support the idea to censor it, claiming that children who hear the word in question repeated as much as Huck Finn contains (approximately 219 times) is damaging, or offensive, and even downright wrong. This is a convincing argument I can almost agree with, however, people are expanding the censorship and even bans to class ages as mature as high school level classes, and if it hasn’t been expanded yet, they want it to be. People have gone as far as suing a school for stocking it, suing for freedom of speech to be overturned, suing so another student won’t get an opportunity to read a classic of literature. To establish my validity, I have read the book. I read it my sophomore year in high school.

Censorship of books in general is not okay. Books are the richest way for people to learn and discover things in and about their world. I can understand to a degree why some parents may want their children to avoid certain ideas and content, such as issues concerning profanity, religious ideas that may conflict with books’ messages or content. Some argue that, in the case of Huckleberry Finn, we should censor because of derogatory language. True? The word is highly offensive to many people, but people may be forgetting a few things: the “n-word” was a way to differentiate between social classes in the middle of the eighteen-hundreds.

According to a student of Bryn Mawr College, Julia Smith, “the Encyclopedia of swearing, Geoffrey Hughes states that the term has evolved through three stages throughout history. The first is a descriptive, non-offensive term used roughly from 1574-1840.” Which is around the year that Huck Finn was published (1884) and set in pre-civil war (1861-1865) America. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a child of mine hear this word in a classic American novel, rather than in the foul hallways of schools, or in some alley in a city.

“As long as I don’t write about the government, religion, politics, and other institutions, I am free to print anything.” – Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais (French comedy writer) People in today’s society feel offended by the littlest things now, as Mr. Beaumarchais noticed. Censorship of an American classic like Huck Finn does not make the history of slavery go away; nor does censorship make the “n-word” go away. In fact, censorship is an infringement upon free speech. The author is entitled to his or her own usage of words. I’m certain that Mark Twain would not have allowed the censorship of his book. He wrote it with offensive words in it for reasons known to him. The n-word is so much more powerful than the replacement “slave”. The word slave is unrealistic in this case because it wasn’t used during the time Huck Finn was written.

It’s up to the reader to determine what he or she finds offensive, and once they have done so, they don’t have to read it. This may come as a shock for some people, so I’ll say it again. You don’t have to read it. Surprise! Censoring a classic like this book takes away our right to fully understand the social class differences right before the civil war. It seems to me the only people who are offended are people who are uneducated about the time the book takes place.

Huck Finn shouldn’t be remembered or examined as a book containing racial slurs and offensive language. This classic should be examined by the message within the book; Friendship prevails above even the seemingly most unusual and impossible of situations. In the end, the slave who is referred throughout the entire book as an “n-word” rather than his name, Jim, is a freed slave in the end, and this clearly expresses that Twain’s usage of the word was merely a social idea and custom, and not racist or derogative.

Censoring Huck Finn is one of the worst choices we as a society could make. The book teaches us, and doesn’t hide. In fact, it really helped me be less avoiding of the subject of slavery in the 19th century. It happened, and that’s what the book is about, NOT making you or others eel uncomfortable.

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