Censorship of “Huck Finn” enslaves future students

by Divya Kumar
News Editor

There are instances when literary selections made for school-related reading contain certain words deemed “inappropriate”; while such language would normally be frowned upon in an academic setting, they are acceptable within novels due to their context. Most students are able to get past these words at their age with just an occasional giggle or stutter – but sometimes greater issues arise.

Such is the case that many schools have seen in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The novel, an American classic, deals with the life of a Huckleberry Finn, a white boy from the south, and the adventures he takes during his childhood. Because the story was set in the early nineteenth century, there is a heavy emphasis on the topic of slavery and there are several words with racist connotations within it. The abundance of derogatory terms, which were common for the time period, is what has caused it to be the fourth most banned book in public high schools across the nation. It has led to certain editions of it to be censored by replacing certain words with “slave” instead.

While many see such censorship as permissible in order to avoid inappropriate language from surfacing in educational atmospheres, there are many other negative aspects that arise as well.

“By censoring it, it’s like they’re trying to rewrite history,” senior Adam Warner said. “Just ignore that people used these words in the past by replacing it with something that looks friendlier. Obviously the author chose that particular word for a reason, and in order to get the full message behind the novel, that’s the word that should be used.”

Most students at Coppell High School are required to read Huckleberry Finn their junior year, as is the case for many high schools around the United States. With new editions of the book that have certain words replaced, many wonder if lesson plans will be drastically altered to accommodate the new language.

“Generally, the language in the book hasn’t been a huge problem,” AP English III teacher Zach Sherman said. “We’ve had some Socratic discsussions that cover the issue of the n-word, but it’s not like any of the students have ever gotten hung up over it. It’s been emphasized that when reading the novel, these words shouldn’t be the focus, but rather the big moral picture behind the book; the focus should be on the satire, while the language is there just to back it up.”

graphic by Arden Radford

While Sherman agrees the book is important because of how it is written, replacing words with “slave” instead still allows the story to flow with a similar connotation, even if the extent of the effect is not as great as it previously was. Though issues with parents and students over their discomfort at some of the racist undertones within the novel have never been

a prevalent issue at CHS, he does express sympathy and understanding for schools where it has occurred.

“The biggest issue is the fact that censoring the word is patronizing to the students,” Sherman said. “It just assumes that kids can’t differentiate between using these words in context and out of it. We’ve talked about how some of these words can be not as derogatory in present-day situations as they were in the past, but how it’s important to understand why Twain uses them in order to satirize the families at the time.”

While most versions of this novel currently use the original text, fears that the widespread appeal of the “clean” version will replace it in most educational facilities. As for CHS, most teachers plan to leave it to the discretion of their students to pick whichever novel they feel more comfortable reading. However, the issue of attempting to censor a classic novel in order to mold it to become more commonplace in contemporary society is one that will likely remain a hot topic for much time to come.

“The words that have been changed in Huck Finn are essential to the book, the time period in which it was written and is set, and the very foundations and themes with which the book deals,” AP English IV teacher Matt Bowden said. “Are there offensive terms in the novel? Yes. And that is the point. One should be affected by them, which is part of the lesson that lies within the book.”