The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain toward late nineteenth century is a vital contribution to the American literary scene. Criticized from various quarters for its overtly racist tone, the book, if anything, stands against racism and slavery. The rest of the essay will argue that there is no need for censoring or modifying the contents of the book to suit modern sensibilities.
One of the target areas for modern critics of the book is its explicit and copious use of the word ‘nigger’, which is a slur reference to black slaves. There are two reasons why censorship of the book should not be allowed. First, it goes against the spirit and letter of the Freedom of Speech provisions in the constitution of the country. Second, there is nothing inherently sinister about the word ‘nigger’. In other words, the author, instead of reinforcing the negative stereotype of black people, is only showing the abusive usage of language by their white owners.
Moreover, the language used in the American South during the antebellum years can only be truly captured if such words are included in the novel. The essence and literary style of the Realist genre, which the novel employs, would be lost if political correctness is given importance over real substance. Also, since the civil rights movement of 1960s, the usage of the word ‘nigger’ is substituted by the more acceptable ‘black Americans’. But the change in nomenclature has not translated into change in their social status. Despite the United States presently boasting a black President, the community lags behind white folks in many respects. In this sense, this token change was merely euphemistic.
Terming the language in the novel as being abusive is to miss the point. Author Mark Twain is playing the twin roles of writer and historian in the book. The writer in him sought to create aesthetic literary appeal; and the best way to go about it is to capture the local flavor and color through language. The author also employs a satirical style in exposing the white man’s supposed superiority. For example, by referring to black folks as niggers, whites are only caricaturing themselves. On this ground, the usage of words such as ‘nigger’ serves a powerful political end in the novel.
Finally, the historian in Mark Twain sought to represent facts as they are. And it was not he who coined the term nigger in the first place – he was only recording its usage. By censoring the novel or modifying its content, one would lose a piece of history itself. While the events and characters of the novel are partly made-up, it is apt to say that no work of non-fiction could ever come close to capturing the essence of race relations in ante-bellum America as Huckleberry Finn does. When we juxtapose the value of fiction and non-fiction in history genre, the former proves to be much superior. For this and other reasons mentioned above, the n-word should not be removed from modern versions of Huckleberry Finn. Beyond that, critics should come round to appreciating the novel for its abundant merits, rather than degrading it.
Brown, Robert. “One Hundred Years of HUCK FINN”. American Heritage Magazine., AmericanHeritage.com. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
Roberts, Gregory (2003-11-26). “‘Huck Finn’ a masterpiece — or an insult”., Seattle PI. SeattlePI.com. Retrieved 2010-11-08.