from an expert in the field:
Alan Gribben, a professor at Auburn University in Montgomery,
Alabama, helped produce the NewSouth Edition of Huckleberry Finn.
APRIL DEBATE RESULTS:
Is college worth it?
MARK TWAIN JOKINGLY defined literary classics as books “which people
praise and don’t read.” Ironically, Twain’s two most famous novels are suffering
a degree of that very fate owing to a racial slur: the “n-word.” Striving for greater
social civility, public school districts are increasingly reluctant to assign either
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which
contain a combined 228 repetitions of this abhorred word. Because many
colleges do not require American literature courses, generations of students complete their education
without encountering these great works, simply because of a single detestable epithet.
Mark Twain employed the “n-word” in an effort to re-create the dialect of uneducated people during his Southern boyhood. He had no way of predicting that this element would become inflammatory
in the 21st century.
Is the “n-word” absolutely essential for capturing the racial atmosphere Twain was depicting?
Not really. Substituting the term “slave” keeps readers adequately aware of the deplorable race relations
prevalent along the Mississippi River during that time.
Would Mark Twain approve of making this change? No one can be certain, but we do know that he
was an unapologetically commercial author, seeking every opportunity to follow up on literary trends
and increase his reading audience. For nearly 30 years he had his writings sold door-to-door rather than
in bookstores in order to reach the largest possible number of customers. Making this translation of the
“n-word” enables all schools to consider these novels for adoption and still preserves Twain’s emphasis
on the evils of the slave system.
The NewSouth Edition (available at bookstores or at
www.newsouthbooks.com) offers readers a
chance to sidestep the “n-word” acrimony that has dominated and distorted public discussions of Tom
Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn for 40 years. Readers can now focus on deeper messages in these novels:
the thrill of adventures that lead to discoveries, the yearning for freedom that makes terrible risks
worthwhile and the price of social conformity that blinds people to immoral practices. The brilliance of
Twain’s artistry hardly depends on one universally hated racial insult. Those readers seeking Twain’s
original wording can easily purchase the numerous other editions of these books. C
Percentage reflects votes
received by April 15, 2011.
MARCH DEBATE RESULTS:
Is offshore drilling in the best
interest of the United States?
YES: 56% NO: 44%
Percentage reflects votes received by
March 31, 2011. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
from an expert in the field:
Kent Oliver is an active member of the American Library
Association and is the current president of the Freedom to
Read Foundation (
MARK T WAIN’S BOOK The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published
in 1884, is one of America’s literary masterpieces. A recent edition conceived
by Alan Gribben, professor of English at Auburn University and Twain
scholar, has been edited to remove racially charged words. This edition clearly
subverts the intent of the author: depicting life on the Mississippi River in the
1800s. It contributes to a disturbing trend in our society to dumb down controversial ideas, subjects
and language in our literature. An exhaustive list of titles and topics demonstrating this practice may
be found at
Because of its language and surface racism, Huck Finn has often been the target of book challenges
and bannings. Ironically, the book is highly regarded in part because of its undeniable anti-racism
message. Any deviation from the original is a desecration of the author’s work and original intent.
Mr. Twain himself was very particular about the words he used and why. According to an oft-used
quote by the author, “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large
matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Possibly foreseeing a challenge
to his “right words” such as Professor Gribben’s, Twain was famously concerned over copyright laws and
desired to control his works, including his autobiography, beyond the grave.
While there is certainly a place for comfortable literature that entertains, the appeal and great
impact of Huck Finn today lies in the fact it does not always make us feel comfortable—not with late-
1800s America or with that of 2011. Its power is in the use of uncomfortable words and an insight into
a time period that gives us pause for serious reflection.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read
Foundation, along with thousands of librarians and information professionals, support the premise that
the most dangerous idea is the suppressed idea. As a society we should be committed to the right of
unrestricted access to information and ideas, regardless of the viewpoints of the author or the reader.
Without this commitment we run the risk of rewriting history as well as great literature. Students have
heard the words; let them read and understand the ideas that go with them. C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented and
are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The Costco Connection take no
position on any Debate topic.
MAY 2011 ;e Costco Connection 19