Twain's classic loses the N-word for modern age

To some, Huckleberry Finn is getting a welcome makeover for the 21st century. To others, the greatest American novel is being sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. Either way, a new edition of Mark Twain's most famous book has deleted all 219 of its mentions of perhaps the most incendiary word in American English: nigger.

Claiming they want Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to reach as wide an audience as possible in an era when schools and libraries are painfully sensitive to the ins and outs of racial politics, NewSouth Books, an Alabama publishing house, announced yesterday that the term "slave" will henceforth be used instead.

The man behind the move, the new edition's editor, Dr Alan Gribben of Auburn University, said he hoped to ensure that Twain remains required reading for schoolchildren who might otherwise feel that his casual use of the N-word creates a "barrier" to their enjoying the work.

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colour-blind," he told reporters. "Race matters in these books... It's just a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

In addition to removing "nigger" from Huckleberry Finn, Dr Gribben has altered the word "injun", in its sister text The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, so as not to offend Native Americans. The name of the villain in that book duly changes from "Injun Joe" to "Indian Joe".

The publisher's blurb celebrates this as "a bold move, compassionately advocated". But Dr Gribben admitted that his new edition would dismay traditionalists. "I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified," he said. "Already, one professor has told me he is very disappointed."

A chorus of academics, teachers and readers yesterday criticised efforts to rewrite Twain's famous prose as a misplaced exercise in literary censorship.

The plot of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is explicitly progressive, they noted. The book's eponymous hero, a white youth, befriends an escaped slave. He then hears how he has been mistreated by his white master (or rather mistress) and helps him to win freedom.

Thomas Wortham, a prominent Twain scholar at UCLA, compared Dr Gribben to Thomas Bowdler, the British editor of the 19th century who created a notorious "family" version of Shakespeare, which removed all sexual themes so as not to offend Victorian wives and children. "A book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn't challenge [readers] to ask, 'Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?'" he told Publishers Weekly.

Ironically, Twain, who died in 1910, was a passionate critic of racism, and donated money to a number of civil rights organisations. But his failure to use politically correct language in Huckleberry Finn, which was published in 1885, has nonetheless long been a bone of contention.

In 1957, the New York City Board of Education removed the novel from circulation in elementary and junior high schools. Today, it remains the fourth-most banned book in American schools, according to Banned in the USA, an influential book about literary censorship.

The black author Toni Morrison, meanwhile, addressed the enduring controversy in her introduction to the current Oxford edition of Huckleberry Finn. She admits that the repeated use of the term disturbs her, but nonetheless criticised efforts to remove the book from schools and libraries.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor