Political Correctness Run Amok — Mark Twain Edition

In my self-description page on this blog (About Me: The Hound), I wrote briefly about my thoughts on political correctness, which for many, particularly in academia, has developed into a full-blown religion:

I abhor political correctness and the use of euphemisms, because they are harmful to the English language, undermine debate, and prevent the clear expression of thoughts.

Yesterday brought us an example of just how stupid people can be in the name of trying to not offend. 

At Commentary Contentions, Abe Greenwald notes a report about a new edition of Mark Twain’s classic novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that will replace the ubiquitous word (in the novel) “nigger” with the word “slave.”  (The editors also plan to omit references to Native Americans as “injuns.”)

Greenwald observes that this effort is likely to be in vain, since even the word “slave” may be found offensive to the eternally vigilant political correctness monitors:

One time, I worked on a third-grade social-studies textbook for a Southern school district. A few weeks after completing the project — which covered regional history from before Columbus’s arrival to the present day — a directive came from on high: the chapters on slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction had to be reworked. There was, we were told, excessive use of a forbidden word. Dare to guess? Slave. The term, you see, was dehumanizing and had to be replaced with “enslaved person.”

He then makes an even more serious point that such idiots do grave harm to history and modern understanding of the evil of slavery (which persists in much of the non-Western world):

It never dawned on these kindly censors that making slavery seem less dehumanizing than it actually is only serves to soften the perception of what was a horrific reality. They never considered that prettifying history’s abominations is an insult to those who suffered, a free pass to those who inflicted pain, and a partial guarantor of repeat performances.

All true. 

Moreover, for Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the offending word served at least two purposes — neither reveals any animosity toward Black people; quite the opposite.

First, Twain wrote using the vernacular of his time and his place.  As such, his writing reveals how people in the antebellum South spoke about all manner of things, including slaves, Blacks in general, and Native Americans.  When reading their words, we learn about that time and place.  Changing those words undermines that understanding.

Second, at its core, Huckleberry Finn is a novel about a young white boy’s passage to understanding that the slave Jim is a person, and his friend.  Huck’s continual use of the word nigger to refer to Blacks in general, and his friend and travelling companion Jim in particular, shows just how steeped in the culture of the antebellum South Huck is, notwithstanding his rebellious nature. 

The seminal turning point in the novel is an incredibly touching scene where Huck realizes that, according to the culture that raised him, he will burn in hell for all eternity if he does not reveal to Jim’s white “owner” where her slave has run off to.  He believes that quite literally; he tries to pray and cannot. 

This drives Huck to write a letter revealing Jim’s location — by then held as a runaway slave for reward — but Huck cannot send it:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

“Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.  Huck Finn.”

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.

You see, Huck realized that Jim was his friend.  A true friend.  Jim was not “just a nigger.”  He is a wonderful person.  And Huck was willing to consign himself to hell, forever, to save Jim from being returned to slavery. 

Anyone who finds this book to be racist is blinded by politics and greivance-mongering.  Altering this great work to avoid offending the eternally-offended dilutes its important message and is reprehensible and ignorant.

Also via Michelle Malkin.

UPDATE: Nicholas Kristoff Tweets: “If censoring Huck Finn will help get a great book back on h.s. reading lists, isn’t that worth it?”

No, it’s not.  It will mark one more capitulation to the mindless forces of political correctness who demand that certain groups never be offended, even if that offense is entirely because the offended have no understanding, and do not care to have any understanding, of what the speaker is saying.

Update via Hot Air.

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://mangyredbonehound.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/political-correctness-run-amok-mark-twain-edition/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: