'Hey, Tom, they're updating ol' Huck's vocabulary' | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

'Hey, Tom, they're updating ol' Huck's vocabulary'

Students react to taking N-word out of classics

Posted: January 5, 2011 - 8:31pm
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Brainerd High School teacher Wendy Vandeputte (left) held up two of Mark Twain's books, including "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."  Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
Brainerd High School teacher Wendy Vandeputte (left) held up two of Mark Twain's books, including "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

 

Will taking out the N-word out of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" books and replacing the word with "slave" change the meaning of the books?

A few Brainerd High School literature/English teachers and students think so.

An Associated Press story from Montgomery, Ala., reported a new edition of the two Mark Twain books has replaced the N-word with "slave." Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the N-word appears 219 times in "Huck Finn" and four times in "Tom Sawyer." He said the word puts the books in danger of joining the list of literary classics that Twain once humorously defined as those "which people praise and don't read."

Wendy Vandeputte's sophomore Pre-Advanced Placement English class at BHS is currently reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Vandeputte, who also teaches American literature, journalism and speech, said the high school has been teaching students about Mark Twain for years. Vandeputte said before she has her students read the book, the class discusses the N-word. Vandeputte said she shares articles about schools that have banned the books and she has students write a mock letter to the editor taking a stand for or against teaching Twain.

"I tell the students that they can use

whatever word they feel comfortable with (on the N-word,)" said Vandeputte.

"We here believe the N-word is a crucial part of the reality of the Deep South back in those years. Twain uses the N-word for a reason and it identifies the hypocrisy in those years in America. I think the late 1800s was full of this language and Twain's use of satire strongly suggests he disapproved of society's treatment of blacks. This has become a really good topic for discussion for my students and we have a good debates over this issue.

"I think Twain would be rolling in his grave right now to see this happening (the new edition of his book.)"

Vandeputte said the new version of the book would not be true to the original version, and to her would not be worth reading.

Sophomores Marcus Comstock and Michelle Holmes agreed that the N-word should stay in the books and classmate Amanda Kaddatz argued that the N-word should be taken out.

Kaddatz said, "The books use the N-word way too much. I think taking the word out is the right thing to do so nobody is offended. I have a lot of colored friends and I think they would be offended. I think there are other words that can better replace the N-word, like 'slave.' 'Slave' is a better choice of words and people will still get the point of the story."

Comstock said taking the N-word out of the Mark Twain books will change the historical context of the stories. Comstock said the N-word was used during those times and it was then accepted as a word.

Holmes said the N-word is not politically correct in this day and age, but it was back when Twain wrote his books. Holmes said to take the N-word out of the books takes away the author's meaning of the story, including the time period of which it was written.

BHS teacher David Devine, who teaches Pre-AP English, AP language and composition, believes that the words of Twain should be left alone, keeping the N-word. Devine said Twain's satire is embedded in his choice of words for the characters. Devine said part of the beauty of "Huck Finn" is he is a master of different dialect and to change the word choice is demeaning.

Anjanette Kraus, who teaches English at Little Falls Community High School, said she disagrees with changing Mark Twain's words. Kraus said that it is not right to change any written word that has been published, especially historical context. However, Kraus said it is important to teach students that society is beyond using the N-word.

Kraus said she also discusses the N-word or any other type of racism that appears in any novel before the students read it.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at jennifer.stockinger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851.

 

 

Editor's note

Portions of the quotes from students in this story may be considered racially insensitive. In the interest of fully illustrating the problems with this subject matter and young readers, the reactions are being published as they were spoken.