Opinion: Censorship is a dirty word

Adrienne Savoldi

For decades, Mark Twain has been one of the most beloved authors in the English language. Almost everyone knows the characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and has read those books. However, now Mark Twain’s immortal words are in danger of being “modernized” so as not to offend people.

According to the New York Times, “Huckleberry Finn” will soon be getting a literary makeover by replacing the word “nigger” with the word “slave.” The n-word appears 219 times in the novel.?

I’ll be honest, I hate that word. I think it’s crude and derogatory, but I don’t think that it should be changed in “Huck Finn.”

?When Twain first published “Huck Finn,” it was 1884 – not long after the Civil War. Blacks were no closer at gaining rights than they were before the war and a lot of people still looked down on African-Americans as second-class citizens. Twain was merely writing about his time period. I’m not condoning Twain’s use of the word, or defending it but to change that word is to defile the book. Jim, the African-American in question and the person to whom that word is describing most of the time, is a beloved character. He’s not well educated, but he is a good man, and Huck’s protector in a sense, and Huck feels compelled to rescue him in the course of the novel. But in that time period, they would never be considered friends.

Twain’s novel is not the first to undergo such heat. Charles Dickens, who I like even more than Twain, has come under heat for portrayal of Fagin the Jew in “Oliver Twist.” Fagin is a thief and a scoundrel who could or could not be engaging in sexual acts with the young boys he recruits to join his gang of pickpockets. Dickens’s defense was that in those days Jews were the ones most likely to engage in criminal activity, but that he bore no ill will to those of the Jewish faith. Nevertheless, Dickens later changed the last 15 chapters of “Oliver Twist” and removed any mentions of “the Jew.” But allow me to stress that was Dickens’s choice. Twain, on the other hand, is dead and cannot revise his work. To me, that makes this whole deal even more contemptuous because the author isn’t around to defend himself or his work.

Another famous instance of censorship involves Ray Bradbury’s famous novel “Fahrenheit 451.” For years, Bradbury’s novel, ironically about censorship, was censored before he finally realized what was going on. He was understandably ticked.


Censorship to me is a dirty word, especially in writing. And in a book such as Twain’s, we can’t just rewrite history. There was slavery in America. People did treat African-Americans as figures of fun. Jews in Dickens’s time suffered poor reputations, deserved or not. One of my favorite quotes from “Fahrenheit 451” describes this situation about books perfectly: “They show the pores in the face of life.”

Twain is probably turning in his grave to hear that his book may be rewritten for him. Let’s get real, people. Just because something offends you doesn’t mean it offends somebody else. I mentioned above that I don’t like the n-word, but it’s not my book. If the book bothers you, put it down and find another. As for those who have to read the book in school, then it opens the floor for literary discussions about Twain’s — or any author’s — time period, what they believed, what is the historical context and what are some attributes of the character. Expurgation is a sin against the written word. Leave “Huckleberry Finn” and all books, alone because they are poignant in their own ways.

Contact Adrienne Savoldi at [email protected].