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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sam Clemens Weighs In

Once again, on the notion of deleting the word nigger from Huckleberry Finn: My friend Jane sent me this link to a story in the Christian Science Monitor that quotes the reaction of Samuel L. Clemens to the news that the Brooklyn Public Library was considering banning Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer because of their "coarseness, deceitfulness, and mischievous practices."  Clemens wrote:
"I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote 'Tom Sawyer' & 'Huck Finn' for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave."
What a trouble-maker.


  1. You'd think teachers would be thrilled by the "teachable moment" of a dead white male author using the N-word, so ubiquitous in rap music. Why not engage students on the subject of language, who has the right to use which words, when they are useful or inappropriate, and so on? But apparently when schools aren't banning books because of sexual content or something else, they can fall back on "political correctness." Twain would have certainly appreciated the ironies and absurdities.

  2. Now, somewhat to my amazement, there are signs that Huck Finn is becoming a verb, meaning "to bowdlerize; specifically, to delete references to slavery and racism in order to avoid acknowledgment of embarrassing aspects of American history, as in The Republicans in Congress decided to Huck Finn the Constitution."

  3. I think I love this idea, Karl! Making Huck Finn a verb will keep him/the book/Twain not only in the culture, but in the conversation. And just think what Twain would have to say on this!?!? Priceless.