Written by Shelley Plett Tuesday, 11 January 2011 17:13
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” —Mark Twain
I don’t watch much reality TV. There is one show in particular that perfectly sums up why. It’s called “Sister Wives.”
I watched part of two episodes to get a feel of what it was about. My interpretation of the premise of the show is this: a polygamist man trying to come off as a good guy juggles his multiple wives.
The last partial episode I saw was the man (Kody) “courting” his next “soul-mate,” as his prospective next wife so sweetly labeled him.
I believe in soul-mates (as in one-on-one). And I believe in the idea of marriage (again, as in one-on-one). But polygamy offends me. I think it’s crazy to expect the average person to grasp this lifestyle. I really can’t believe there’s a TV show about it.
I won’t watch it again. That’s my solution because TLC doesn’t owe me anything. They conceived the idea, they put it together, and they can air it when they choose.
I am capable of censoring what I watch. That’s not their job, it’s mine.
It’s a stretch to compare a reality show to a classic novel, but I’m going to anyway. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain is being reprinted with changes (censorship) to the author’s original words.
Words are kind of a big deal to a writer. Each one is chosen for a very specific reason, even if they may offend. One word can change a story.
The primary word changed is the N-word. I’m calling it that because honestly, I am offended by the actual word. It makes me a little uncomfortable and I don’t want to hear it in casual conversation.
But that word, hand selected 219 times by the author, is crucial to the story. This word was very powerful, even back then. It was a tool used by Twain to shine a glaring, overwhelming spotlight on racism. This reprint will use the word “slave” in its place.
Huck Finn is a piece of history. It’s art. Art isn’t always pretty. It is sometimes expressive, sometimes personal, sometimes controversial and supposed to make us look at ourselves and others in a different way. Being challenged—or offended—is actually a good thing. Isn’t that the bigger lesson?
Alan Gribben, the college professor behind this altered new edition, said that this change is “for readers who cannot get past the slur to take in the rest of the book—and thereby understand Twain’s opposition to racism.”
It seems the best way to understand Twain’s opposition to racism is to just read the book as it was written. (Or don’t read it.)
We can learn by being pushed past our comfort zones. And let’s remember—this story was published in 1885. Things were different in 1885. There’s a lot of fact in works of fiction. And the mind-sets of people during that time in our history were very clearly shown through Twain’s word selection.
How would we know how far we’ve come today if it weren’t for raw accounts chronicled through stories from writers like Mark Twain and other recorded histories?
We have no right to censor or blatantly rewrite history. It is what it is. Yet we’re doing it and disguising it as something else.
That offends me more than any single word ever could.