JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: A PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL STRIKES HUCKLEBERRY FINN FROM ITS CURRICULUM – WHY THIS IS A GOOD DECISION HAVING NOTHING TO DO WITH BOOK CENSORSHIP   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE IN THE GUARDIAN

 

Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn, has not been banned, it has merely been dropped from the curriculum in a Philadelphia school, and the act is not outrageous as some claim.

We are all quite sentimental about Huck, and many talk about the book never having read the original, perhaps having read abridged editions or seen a Hollywood film version.

But I remember, decades back, reading the book aloud to children night after night, and coming to the passages with scores of that most unpleasant word. I simply couldn’t continue.

It really is that harsh and shocking.

And I think quite unnecessary.

I understand the standard defence of his heavy usage, but I’m not sure I accept its validity (to defuse the word by over-use).

People who claim that perhaps do not understand that Twain himself used the word in his private life. He was a child of his time and place, just like Harry Truman who much later still regularly used the word.

I don’t condemn Twain, but if I were a teacher – and Philadelphia is a majority black city – I would be horrified to teach this book as Twain wrote it.

I also find it interesting that Twain’s wife – a bit of a puritan, daughter of a Buffalo newspaper tycoon – often influenced him “to clean up” the language of his manuscripts which originally contained much swearing as heard on the streets, but not in the instance of this word.

I don’t know whether she tried.

We must remember that in the late 19th century, this word was completely ordinary in living rooms across America.

That is not the case today, and the word, much repeated, is embarrassing.

I don’t believe in banning books, ever, but you have to consider the position of a teacher in a Philadelphia school reading or discussing passages with a largely-black class before you judge.

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