Posts tagged ‘Mark Twain’

January 10, 2011

Whitewashing History In Mark Twain

by thiszine

BY SWEETMAN

Mark Twain has been surrounded by controversy since he began publishing his writing. Witty, satirical and irreverent, William Faulkner hailed him as “the father of American literature.” Twain was born in 1835 and died in 1910, and his novels and essays were a reflection of his life and times. Twain’s writing is often light and humorous but he was equally infamous for his penchant to delve into sobering societal hypocrisies and inhumanity toward others.

For these dark themes, Twain’s most notable novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) have been mired in controversy over the appropriateness of teaching them to young readers. They have been banned from libraries, schools and curriculum since they were first published. The controversy surrounding Twain’s these novels still rages into the 21st century; his two most famous novels still rank in the top 100 of the American Library Association’s most frequently challenged and banned books.

Enter Auburn University Professor Alan Gribben, a Mark Twain scholar who decided, after forty years of studying and teaching the writings of Twain, to change the content of both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His changes substitute racially derogatory words for African-Americans and Native-Americans for, in Professor Gribben’s opinion, the more socially acceptable 21st century terms “slave” and “Indian” (wouldn’t “Native American” be the more politically correct version?). He reasons that by substituting the n- and i-words for more socially acceptable words he is eliminating “preemptive censorship” of the novels and thus preventing further cries of inappropriateness in public schools. Professor Gribben defends his edits as offering to teachers and general readers “an option for a more palatable reading experience.”

Well doesn’t that just make altering a dead author’s work The Right Thing To Do! And maybe the politically correct white-washing of Classic American Literature will revise our unsavory and uncomfortable history of slavery, segregation and racial inequality!

Censorship is censorship. No matter how earnestly one feels he/she is defending an author, alteration of the author’s final text to make it more “palatable” to the masses is censorship. Mark Twain did not use the word “slave” 219 times in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and no amount of good intention by Professor Gribben gives him the right to change Twain’s work. Furthermore, using a less inflammatory yet definitively wrong word as the substitution for a highly offensive, racially charged word sets Professor Gribben squarely on a path of whitewashing then rinsing an unfortunate part of American History.

There is a word for Professor Gribben’s particular brand of censorship as he is not the first well-meaning expert to try to gloss a work of literature to make it less offensive. Thomas Bowdler, an English physician, decided to expurgate the works of William Shakespeare and Edward Gibbons to render them more appropriate for the delicate eyes of 19th century women and children. His edits were soundly ridiculed and rejected. The term bowdlerize is now eponymous with literary censorship.

Gribben’s bowdlerization of Twain’s writing is an act of incredible vanity. During a reading as part of the NEA’s Big Read Program in Alabama, Gribben read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and routinely substituted “slave” for the n-word to make for a more comfortable reading. Apparently Professor Gribben liked the swap so much that he is perfectly comfortable tweaking Twain’s works in writing to make it easier on our modern eyes.

Censorship of Twain’s novels does both the author and the content of the novels a tremendous disservice. It is impossible to know if Mark Twain would make politically correct changes to his novels today and we can only guess what he would want. Twain wrote in the vernacular of the time. The derogatory slang use of the n-word in the 1870s is not burdened with the unspeakable weight that it carries in the 21st century. Yet that unspeakable weight is the burden of a society that has to live with the acts and deeds of its predecessors, like it or not. Difficult as it is to read, write and speak, censorship of a novel that reflects true historical times does not protect or teach young readers and bowdlerizing literature to make reading more palatable teaches nothing.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are tremendous novels with a sad truth still present today: our capability for committing inhumane acts. As a society, we haven’t changed enough to read Twain’s novels with any historical distance. To the contrary, the power of Twain’s writing has drastically changed to make his words uncomfortable, taboo and unspeakable in classrooms. Expunging those words changes nothing within our present culture. It’s just censorship.

January 10, 2011

Who Can Say the N-Word?

by thiszine

Writer, poet, and activist Ishmael Reed is interviewed by the BBC’s George Galloway on the controversy surrounding NewSouth, an Alabama-based U.S. publishing company, whose new edition of Mark Twain’s novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have removed the n-word, a derogatory slang term for blacks, and replaced it with “slave.” A derogatory term for Native Americans was also removed and replaced with “Indian.”

 

October 12, 2010

Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Don Borchert

by thiszine

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER AND THE UNDEAD
by Don Borchert

Tor Books
(August 2010, $13.99, 304 pages)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is about a young boy growing up in a small town along the Mississippi River. It’s also the latest novel to be zombified. I’ve amassed so many mash-ups of classical literature and zombie fiction that if future archaeologists ever found my collection…well, the historians would have a field day with the discovery…probably the psychologists too. Some novel hybrids are just the originals with zombies jammed in, while others offer a spectacular blending of genres. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Undead falls somewhere in the middle.

Don Borchert’s take on this classic started out rather boring. The editor’s note, written from the world of the Zum, was extremely hokey, completely unnecessary, and did more harm than good. If a story is interesting, it should not need an explanation of the plot in advance. Read the editor’s note at your own risk; you have been warned.

In the first half of the book, the story follows the original pretty closely with a few minor changes, tailored to fit in the Zum – the name of the zombies that have overrun the United States. For instance, instead of being required to paint the fence white, Aunt Polly tells Tom to sharpen the tops of the fence posts. There was very little mention of Zum, which is a let-down when “undead” is in the title. More attention is given to descriptions of the survival modifications to the village that Tom lives in than the Zum or the infection.

I kept finding excuses to put the book down, and, truthfully, I only continued reading because this book was a gift. I also have a policy of only reviewing books that I’ve read from beginning to end. I was shocked at the difference in the narrative once “Injun Joe” made his entrance into the story: more Zum scenes, plenty of action, and lots of surprises. This novel is the perfect example of why people should read the entire book before they form an opinion. (Or you could just start on page 95.)

Before reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead, Zombiephiles should know:

1) most Zum are mindless shamblers, but there are a few thinking-Zum
2) source of infection is unknown and can be spread to animals
3) headshots don’t necessarily work; burning bodies is necessary

If you like mash-ups between genres or anything to do with zombies, it’s worth reading at least once. If Don Borchert decides to try his hand at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I hope he works in more Zum hunting.

Ursula K. Raphael