Jacob Heilbrunn

Leave Huck Finn Alone

Liberal political correctness is running amok again. The latest example is the move to censor Mark Twain's Huck Finn. As the Los Angeles Times editorial page observes,

Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University, is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a joint edition of Mark Twain's classics, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer," in which the word "nigger" — used 219 times in "Huck Finn" alone — is replaced by the word "slave." Other politically correct alterations include a name change for menacing villain Injun Joe (now he's "Indian Joe"). Frankly, Scarlett, we give a darn about this kind of bowdlerism.

So do I. So, apparently, does much of America, to judge by the widespread indignation triggered by Gribben's move. The blunt fact is that in effacing the "n" word from Twain's text, the editors are countermanding his own repudiation of slavery as well as rewriting America's past. Anyone who thinks Twain was a racist--a charge sometimes hurled at him--fundamentally misunderstands the novel. The novel is, at bottom, about Huck's own struggle to reconcile his racist impulses with his affection for Nigger Jim.

The literary critic Leslie Fiedler even claimed that there was a homosexual relationship between the two. That's going pretty far. But no one can read the passages in the final section of the novel where Huck and Jim "play" at being master and slave without realizing Twain's profound horror at the South's peculiar institution, one that he understood intimately, having grown up in Hannibal, Missouri.

Twain's text should be revered, not manhandled. Professor Gribbin should probably be defrocked for participating in this travesty.