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New versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn


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#16 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 08:59 AM

In a charming piece in The Atlantic, Michael Chabon relates how he substituted (at his nine-year-old daughter's suggestion) "negro" for the offensive word when he read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn aloud to his kids.

--Anthony

#17 dirac

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 12:04 PM

Thanks, Anthony. Amusing read. :)

#18 papeetepatrick

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Posted 15 January 2011 - 08:26 PM

http://www.nytimes.c...16moore.html?hp

Ultimately, I agree with this author that this is the only practicable solution: "Huckleberry Finn" does not have to be seen as a high school text just because it has for generations, and it certainly can easily be made into a college text. Lorrie Moore points out that it can't be used in high schools, in fact, because times have irreversibly changed. She also points out things other than the word 'nigger' that are racist on Twain's part, like making fun of Jim because he's a black man. I'd forgotten these things, because I haven't reread for 30 years:

EVER since NewSouth Books announced it would publish a version of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” with the “n-word” removed, reaction has split between traditionalists outraged at censorship and those who feel this might be a way to get teenagers, especially African-American boys, comfortable reading a literary classic. From a mother’s perspective, I think both sides are mistaken.

No parent who is raising a black teenager and trying to get him to read serious fiction for his high school English class would ever argue that “Huckleberry Finn” is not a greatly problematic work. But the remedy is not to replace “nigger” with alternative terms like “slave” (the latter word is already in the novel and has a different meaning from “nigger,” so that substitution just mucks up the prose — its meaning, its voice, its verisimilitude). The remedy is to refuse to teach this novel in high school and to wait until college — or even graduate school — where it can be put in proper context.


Chabon's use of 'negro' is a private thing, and could never be used in public school, especially since it's also considered by now a racist term. These change with generations: 'Coloured people' is not now acceptable, but 'people of colour' is considered proper.

#19 dirac

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Posted 15 January 2011 - 11:27 PM

I didn't realize that Huckleberry Finn wasn't read in college. In any case it's just as fit for high school reading as it ever was, and I find this sort of statement very sad. Nor is kicking the can down the road a bit likely to help in many circumstances.



#20 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 05:45 AM

My statement 'sad' or hers? Because if you or somebody else knows how it can be done in already racially-bristling high schools with the word 'nigger' in it, it's fine with me. I thought there was a serious social problem with this, and that's why this do-gooder type decided to use 'slave', which is just stupid. Obviously, my whole concern is not to change the text. As for reading it in college, I'm sure it's sometimes done, but it has not been done so in that specific way, insofar as it's considered a de rigueur thing for high school traditionally. Most people are not doing 'Twain courses' as a freshmen or sophomore thing, unless it has to do with their major.

It seemed Ms. Moore was both protecting the text and making it possible to prevent chaos in the classroom, which would surely ensue in many cases, lots of hollering and screaming.

Thanks, Quiggin. I expect also that teachers may choose not to teach the book because they don't want to deal with the potential trouble from students and parents who don't get it, an understandable position if not a particularly heroic one.


I was responding equally to your quote here. That's true, but it's mostly understandable, because teachers don't have time to 'be heroic' about one controversial book--esp. in poor urban schools where there are full-time discipline and drug delinquency problems (think the Bronx, where a friend of mine taught for five years and barely got out alive, making every one of her friends miserable during those years as well--she talked to all of us as if WE were her students too, because you spend your whole time defending yourself in some of those slum schools); furthermore they don't know how to if they did, not nearly all the time.


But I'm out of this conversation, and have nothing further. It's important, but not that important. Not everybody even thinks it's that all-important a work, and it's not necessarily a greater masterpiece than all other American literature, even with the plaudits of Hemingway and whoever else. After all, Susan Sontag even expects people to accept that Hemingway is actually 'bad' as though you couldn't argue with it, as though she was somehow authoritative on Hemingway's 'badness', which is as typical of her as it is insane. All you have to do is pick up one of her novels to find out what 'bad' might really be. So if some 'celebrity intellectual' says Hemingway is 'bad' and Hemingway says all American literature, etc., then it's still all just opinions. I don't care that much after a certain point.

#21 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 07:33 AM

... it's mostly understandable, because teachers don't have time to 'be heroic' about one controversial book--esp. in poor urban schools where there are full-time discipline and drug delinquency problems...


Here you summed up the real deal, Patrick. This is true. When my mother told me about the school censorship of the Greek-Roman nude sculptures, and then I asked her what was her position about it, her answer was. "Me...? I'll try to keep my job and make sure the armed security person is always near by in case I'm attacked..." That was when she taught in a troubled area where some youngsters couldn't keep their head up during her class, being as high as they could be. When you are in front of a classroom where the students don't have any problem on calling their professor "b..." in her own face...who cares about The Laocoonte...?
At the very end, truncated education will always be part of societies. Just as Tom Sawyer is not being mentioned in some schools, so is not Darwin in others, so it is up to the family first and then up to the student later on to fill up in the gaps. It could also happen the opposite, when you will have to put aside some things that were part of your childhood school curriculum and ended up not being that useful...(I had to take Marxism-Leninism from the age of ten all the way to college, always excelled in the tests and at the same time was being raised as a catholic boy at home, so I had to learn to play the "make-believe" game).
Let me add that human being will always be biased, and masterpieces-(in more than one art form)- were and will be treated sometimes accordingly. This is maybe not THAT close to the topic being discussed, but...hasn't also ballet to some extent fallen into biased views...? Think of Lifar's works, and how we always get to his political side when discussing the why of his absence from American companies repertoire-(aside from other factors). Today's society doesn't allow for public bonfires any longer, but they can keep going on in our heads, and we still do them following current correcteness...whatever that might be at the moment.
Life is a continuous process of self-education, and you will keep choosing what goes in, what should be left out and what's missing so you can catch on.

#22 dirac

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 04:31 PM

My statement 'sad' or hers?


Hers, of course. I think her argument is sadly misguided. We can agree to disagree.

#23 Quiggin

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 07:42 PM

Coloured people' is not now acceptable, but 'people of colour' is considered proper


I think the word "colored" has the special impact of its making its appearance - as documented in so many WPA photographs like those of Walker Evans - again and again over theater entrances and water fountains.


Think of Lifar's works, and how we always get to his political side when discussing the why of his absence from American companies repertoire-(aside from other factors)


I'm afraid I was the poster who brought up the question of Lifar and the fact that Lifar had been fired from the Paris Opera Ballet for his dubious activities during WWII. He's an interesting character to me - a brilliant dancer at times - and not so interesting at others, at least according to Richard Buckle. He's sort of like Plato's Alcibiades, a charming lion cub but not so charming as he grows up.

But I don't think it's politics that keeps Lifar's choreographies from being revived. Aside from "Suite en Blanc" there might not be much worth redoing, especially without Yvette Chauvire' to dance them (and think of all the Ballets Russes stuff that doesn't get revived). In uncharacteristically strong language, Edwin Denby says Pavane, L'Inconnue, and Entre Deux Rondes were particularly bad and that none of the others held a much of a lasting interest for him.

#24 Helene

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 07:57 PM

The kids on my bus - the 49 Van Ness in San Francisco - use all sorts of shocking racial names addressing each other, back and forth, like a sort of hard table tennis - as if they're somehow trying to wear them out and desensitize them. So such words may currently embarrass the teachers and people of an older generation more than the students.

I recently re-watched "Saturday Night Fever" for the first time in years, and I had not remember how the dialogue is one verbal assault after another, starting with Tony Manero's family's dinner table.

#25 sidwich

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 10:05 PM

Ultimately, I agree with this author that this is the only practicable solution: "Huckleberry Finn" does not have to be seen as a high school text just because it has for generations, and it certainly can easily be made into a college text. Lorrie Moore points out that it can't be used in high schools, in fact, because times have irreversibly changed. She also points out things other than the word 'nigger' that are racist on Twain's part, like making fun of Jim because he's a black man. I'd forgotten these things, because I haven't reread for 30 years:


I agree with dirac. I don't think that the solution is as simple as bumping Huckleberry Finn to college courses. Yes, it's a problematic piece in many way, but it's also one of the integral texts in American literature, and much of post 19th Century American literature makes much more sense after reading it. I'm actually quite sad that I didn't read it in high school. (It wasn't because of any controvery; my high school's English department rotated the books that were taught every year and Huckleberry Finn just wasn't in the mix that fell for my class.)

#26 dirac

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 11:26 AM

.....and much of post 19th Century American literature makes much more sense after reading it.


I hadn' t thought of that but I think you're right. I would add that Huckleberry Finn also makes sense for high school students for other reasons. Huck is relatively close to them in age and Twain's writing, like Jane Austen's, has a very high entertainment quotient - much easier to introduce American literature to kids via Twain rather than, say, Dreiser (although I read Dreiser in high school, too).

#27 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 11:30 AM

... much easier to introduce American literature to kids via Twain rather than, say, Dreiser (although I read Dreiser in high school, too).


Yes...!! Sister Carrie was my first... :)


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