The Tortoise's Tale

"... we went to school in the sea. The Master was an old turtle-we used to call him Tortoise-"
"Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn't one?" Alice asked.
"We called him Tortoise, because he taught us, " said the Mock Turtle

Jill P. May, editor

Old Jim Won’t Be a N*gger No More: Ramifications of Using Censored Versions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the Classroom

Amanda R. Von Der Lohe

Amanda R. Von Der Lohe is completing her MFA in children's literature at Hollins University, after earning her BA through Brigham Young University in theatre and English. Although a native Californian, she currently works in Utah teaching middle school theatre and language arts. Her other interests include all things fantastic and paranormal.

Huckleberry Finn is frequently cited as one of the most censored books in American literature for offensive language and racism. [1] This often results in schools banning the book from their curriculum. In 2011, Twain scholar Alan Gribben attempted to make the novel more appropriate for school-aged readers by publishing an edited version [2] with NewSouth Books, in which the offensive term “nigger,” now often euphemistically labeled “the N-word,” is replaced with the term “slave.” Ironically, this “more appropriate” version also outraged Americans. While many have complained about both the censored and the original version, given the relatively recent nature of NewSouth’s publication, few have analyzed the text itself for the specific effects of replacing the N-word [3] and how students could (mis)interpret the text. In particular, changing the term to “slave” does more than offend a classic: it deprives students of an authentic experience by significantly altering characters and inaccurately depicting an American culture, thus making NewSouth’s edition problematic for classroom discussion.


Without a doubt, Gribben admires Twain and Huckleberry Finn, which is why he wanted to “offer teachers and school districts a workable alternative” (“Huck Finn”). Although not the first of its kind, [4] when the NewSouth edition entered the market many people voiced their opinions. Some called it “literary graffiti” (Pitts), and likened it to Photoshopping history (White). Articles circulated the Internet and newspapers, Facebook groups advocated banning the edited publication, and cartoons satirized the censorship. Several parodic versions are available for purchase or download, including the “Patriot’s Edition” which replaces the N-word with the term “Navy SEAL” (Chung). Other word-replacement [5] parodies use “hipster” or “robot” (Del Signore, “Hipster” and “Video”). [6] Various television programs reported on the edited Huckleberry Finn. The replacement of this one, six-letter word, repeated upwards of 219 times in some editions of the novel stirred a lot of controversy.

Regardless of which version teachers choose to use in their classroom, they will have to either prepare students to engage with the rigorous original text or address the vocabulary shift in the censored version. Well-trained educators know the importance of using pre-reading activities to prepare students to interact with texts. Before examining Huckleberry Finn, teachers should address weight of the N-word with their students. [7] Scholar Michael Patrick Hearn acknowledges, “there is nothing safe about the word” (cxlviii). Although usually understood as a racial slur, the N-word actually has an interesting history that complicates an understanding of it. As professor Randall Kennedy explains, “nigger can mean many different things . . . Generally, a reference to people of color, particularly blacks, nigger can refer to people of any hue” (54). [8] Kennedy goes on to mention, “A word that can bring forth bitter tears in certain circumstances, nigger can prompt joyful laughter in others” (37). A thorough understanding of the N-word cannot be divulged in this paper; indeed, the word has been the focus of several books. Although students may or may not fully understand the complexities of the term, they are fully capable of understanding the difference between the N-word and “slave.” During an interview on 60 Minutes, scholar David Bradley best explained this difference: “'Slave' is a condition. I mean, anybody can be a slave. And it's nothin' for anybody to be ashamed of. But 'nigger' has to do with shame. 'Nigger' has to do with calling somebody something. 'Nigger' was what made slavery possible” (“‘Huckleberry Finn’ and the N-word Debate”). The N-word’s conditions are far more complex than the term “slave.” Using this model with “slave” as a political condition, and understanding the N-word as a culturally complicated racial slur, an examination of specific passages in Huckleberry Finn reveals that replacing the N-word with “slave” severely undermines the narrative’s intentions and limits students’ understanding of the text.

Applying the Common Core

In the United States, “The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear educational standards” (National Governor’s Association “Frequently Asked Questions”) similar to the National Curriculum developments in Australia and the United Kingdom. Since forty-five states have currently adopted the Common Core as part of their learning standards for literature, these standards lay a solid foundation for how American educators and students can approach the text. Students are expected to understand concepts such as character development, word choice, irony, and satire (National Governors Association, “Common Core” [9]). While studies of Twain’s novel should focus on more than word choice, this particular word affects multiple elements in the story. Arguably, no other word choice has characterized a novel as much as the N-word has come to characterize Huckleberry Finn.

Huck, An Altered Character

Huckleberry Finn himself narrates the adventures down the Mississippi River, and his character suffers the most alteration when the N-word is replaced. Hearn explains, “Twain beautifully succeeded in his artifice that here was exactly how such a boy would speak” (clii). Gribben notes, “Twain’s adult narrator of Tom Sawyer is himself careful to use the then-respectful terms ‘colored’ and ‘negro’” (“Reuniting” 9). Educators can point out to their students that Twain had to be honest to Huck’s character, whom Gribben acknowledges is “barely educated” (9), a reason that contributes to Huck’s frequent use of the N-word. Students can examine how word choice affects Huck’s character. Common Core Standard RL.11-12.3 expects students to “Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story” (National Governors Association, “Common Core”). Twain could have chosen the word “slave” if he wanted, [10] or “colored” or “negro.” Instead, he consciously decided to have his characters use the N-word. Twain claims, “In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit . . . The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly” (Twain, Anthology 264). Educators should help students understand that Twain attempted to accurately portray an American culture through his characters.

Aside from Huck’s main character status, his prolific use of the slur stems from him being a product of his culture. Educators can have also students explore how the beliefs and values in Huck’s world affect his character development. In some versions of the text, Huck uses the slur 132 times. Many of his statements reflect what a child in his time would have learned. Cultural critic Jabari Asim notes, “The niggerization of blacks was systematically enforced in Northern schools and households” (40). While Widow Douglas may have tried to “sivilize” Huck, that does not mean she taught him racial tolerance. If anything, she would likely have enforced a prejudiced perspective typical of the time period. “The black abolitionist Hosea Easton reported that white children were ‘warned to behave or “the old nigger will carry you off”’; naughty children were castigated as worse than a little nigger’” (Asim 40). Huck likewise recalls sayings he has been taught, such as "give a nigger an inch and he'll take an ell" (Twain, Anthology 320). Huck reflects “niggerization” towards himself as well. When Huck comments on the Duke and King’s shameless behavior he states, “Well, if ever I struck anything like it, I'm a nigger” (Twain, Anthology 367). This same statement loses meaning in the NewSouth edition: “Well, if ever I struck anything like it, I’m a slave” (Twain, NewSouth 400). Educators should identify to students that this is one of the few times Huck uses the N-word as a derogatory term. [11] At best, “slave” is out of place here; it does not accurately reflect that children were taught not just to loathe slaves, but loath blackness in general. NewSouth’s replacement makes no sense when Huck applies it to himself, and will not resonate with students the same way the original version does.

Students will also misinterpret Huck’s other statements such as "you can’t learn a slave to argue" (Twain, NewSouth 311) and “everybody naturally despises an ungrateful slave” (445). The former statement implies a free black man can learn, and the latter implies people could appreciate a grateful slave. However, the original statements reveal how culture has influenced Huck: "you can’t learn a nigger to argue" (Twain, Anthology 314) and “everybody naturally despises an ungrateful nigger” (398). Students need to understand that the original text goes beyond scope of slavery and demeans blackness itself, showing that Huck believes regardless of one’s political state (free or slave), it is his or her ethnicity that determines one’s value in society.

One of the best examples of how replacing the N-word with “slave” fails to hold up is when Huck apologizes to Jim. The NewSouth edition forces students to focus on slavery rather than prejudice at large. Huck recounts, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a slave” (Twain, NewSouth 317). Hearn explains that “by soft pedaling the language, one softens the discourse. In this version, Huck is not true to his time and place and class” (cxliv). Although Hearn describes the results of a 1983 edited version of the text, his criticism holds true. The altered apology loses value when compared with Twain’s original, harsher text: “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger” (Twain, Anthology 318). The original novel goes beyond examining the condition of slavery. Huck has to overcome his prejudicial attitudes towards Jim the Nigger, not Jim the Slave. Removing the N-word removes potential classroom discourse about the complexity of this apology, where Huck can simultaneously apologize to Jim and casually refer to him with a racial slur (RL.11-12.1). The apology challenges Huck’s moral code. He is a product of society that claims he does not owe a black person anything, at the same time Huck rebels against convention, as evidenced by his assertion that “I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither” (Twain, Anthology 318). Students can recognize that although Huck apologizes to Jim, he does not apologize for breaking social codes.

Changing the term completely alters Huck’s character by negating Huck’s ingrained prejudice and the fact that “again and again Huck has proven himself incapable of mastering the language of justice” (Bollinger). Using the term “slave” would indicate Huck has at least somewhat mastered “the language of justice,” because if Huck calls blacks “slaves” then he merely acknowledges their role in society, just as he would call a doctor a doctor or a free man a free man. Calling blacks the N-word reveals deep-seated prejudice and racism. The altered language makes Huck go from being culturally racist (meaning he is a product of his upbringing) to politically correct, and he is far from a politically correct little boy. He even considers himself past reform. After deciding not to turn Jim in, he exclaims out loud, "All right, then, I'll go to hell” (Twain, Anthology 399). The term “slave” limits students’ understanding of the novel and of Huck’s character. “Twain positioned Huck’s challenging new insights against the prejudices of his era” (Asim 108). The novel constantly depicts Huck wrestling with his conscience not only against the laws regarding slavery, but also social customs that deem all blacks inferior. Students reading a censored version will experience a diluted version of Huck’s journey to overcome social restraints, not just political restraints.

Jim, Another Altered Character

Educators and students can also examine how Jim suffers from the vocabulary shift in the NewSouth edition (RL11-12.3). The culture has influenced Jim, as shown by his fourteen uses the N-word. In a conversation about the French language, Huck asks, “S'pose a man was to come to you and say Polly-voo-franzy--what would you think?" Jim misunderstands and replies, "I wouldn' think nuff'n; I'd take en bust him over de head. Dat is, if he warn’t white. I wouldn’t 'low no nigger to call me dat" (Twain, Anthology 314). This exchange reveals Jim has accepted the attitude that blacks are inferior to whites. He displays a willingness to fight as long as his opponent is not white. While the NewSouth version, “I wouldn’t ‘low no slave to call me dat” (310) makes sense, it loses humor that Twain intended. Students can note how, in the original text, Jim degrades his fellow blacks by referring to them using the N-word.

Educators should also highlight how Twain used irony brilliantly in his stories (RL.11-12.6). While Huck wrestles his conscience about helping a runaway salve, the twist at the end reveals Jim was free all along. Although the NewSouth edition retains the irony of Jim the Free Man versus Jim the Slave, what it fails to do is recognize Jim the Nigger. Twain’s sparse use of the term “slave” only further emphasizes that his original word choice is optimal (RL.11-12.4). Student understanding of the novel is impeded when the language changes. The N-word implies that regardless of whether Jim is free or enslaved, because he is black he will forever be branded. The same holds true for all black characters in Jim’s world.

Slave is not an accurate replacement because it will never have the same racist connotations the N-word does. Because Twain used the term “slave” so rarely, it is important for students to identify when he does use it. He uses the term “slave” only six times. It is poignant at the end when Huck says, "Now, old Jim, you're a free man again, and I bet you won’t ever be a slave no more" (Twain, Anthology 436). Not only does Huck call Jim “free,” he calls him a man, not the N-word or negro or anything else. Jim is a man. NewSouth’s overuse of “slave” reduces the impact of this passage because it has been used so frequently. Huck's declaration essentially gets lost amidst all the other uses of the term “slave.” Twain’s original text makes the significance of this passage stand out.

Replacing the N-word is like television programs bleeping offensive language; audiences can still infer what was edited. Censoring Huckleberry Finn could draw unintentional attention to the racial slur. Students could wrongfully assume every occurrence of “slave” is a euphemism for the N-word. Huck’s above statement could be wrongly read that Jim “won’t ever be a nigger no more,” which is also an inaccurate reading of the passage. Educators would have to explain which passages originally use “slave” to prevent students from misreading the text.

After Jim is officially declared free, the term “slave” is used only once more in the original novel. The N-word, however, repeats more frequently near the end than in most parts of the text. [12] This serves as a reminder that despite political freedom, Jim will continually be subjected to racism. Educators should be mindful that the NewSouth version overlooks this. “Slave” and “slavery” are politically correct terms; their appearance in the remainder of the text neglects to acknowledge the ongoing condition of racism. This is where educators who read the censored version will lose an important discussion point about the novel’s concluding chapters. Students need to understand that although Huckleberry Finn takes place pre-Civil War, it was actually published two decades after the war ended. Twain was not writing against the already-abolished practice of slavery; the novel was, in part, a commentary on the pervading racism in America. By increasing the N-word appearance after Jim’s emancipation, Twain illustrates how although in America slavery had been abolished, problems with racist attitudes persisted. The conditions that set Jim free of slavery did not set him, or any of the black characters, free of the racial slur or the prejudice that comes with it.

Other Altered Characters

Teachers should stress to their students that the novel is a satire that exposes and ridicules racism (RL.11-12.6). Aside from Huck and Jim, approximately twenty characters also use the N-word in the novel, including secondary characters like Tom Sawyer, [13] the King and Duke, and even tertiary characters such as common townsfolk and children [14]. This indicates that the N-word is a product of a culture in which racist sentiments pervade; the word has no limits to whose lips it escapes. Kennedy notes that “Twain is not willfully buttressing racism here; he is seeking ruthlessly to unveil and ridicule it. By putting nigger in white characters’ mouths, the author is not branding blacks, but rather branding the whites” (138). Students will completely lose this sense of branding whites, and indeed a culture, when the N-word is replaced with “slave.” For example, at a town meeting in Chapter 41, multiple crowd members toss the N-word around a total of eight times; at times it becomes difficult to discern who uses the N-word and who doesn’t. Educators can use this passage to demonstrate how the use of the N-word in the original text indicates, more powerfully, that racist sentiments can belong to any member of the crowd.

Perhaps to its credit, the NewSouth edition does not discriminate against any of the characters that use the N-word throughout Huckleberry Finn. Educators and students will notice Aunt Sally’s vocabulary gets censored just as much as Pa Finn’s. The N-word suits the language of many characters that harbor more extreme racists attitudes, especially overtly racist characters like Huck’s father. Pa Finn gives a particularly racist speech in which he rails on the prospect of “niggers” being allowed to vote. Of course, Pa Finn does not care whether black people are free or enslaved; he is upset blacks are allowed to vote at all. Aside from downplaying Pa Finn’s racism, the NewSouth edition alters every character – and the character of a nation – with its indiscriminate use of the term “slave.”

NewSouth’s cleansing further strips the novel of its power and also disregards passages where “slave” is used incorrectly or vaguely. In his rant, Pa Finn mentions, “There was a free nigger there, from Ohio--a mulatter, most as white as a white man.” He later mentions this man is a “p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything” (Twain, Anthology 281). NewSouth’s substitution of “slave” fails to acknowledge that Ohio is a completely free state (MacMichael 281). The details of the man’s educated status indicate he most likely never was a slave; therefore, the substituted word is inaccurate. The man was probably raised well and could have afforded an education. “Black,” “negro,” or “colored” would be more suitable replacements for the N-word in this circumstance.

Common Core Standard RL.11-12.4 expects students to understand multiple meanings of words. Teachers who use the censored edition will lose the opportunity to demonstrate how Twain’s original text foreshadows the versatility of the N-word because it applies to people who are mostly white, such as the professor Pa talks about. In addition, Jim often tells stories about other black people he has encountered, such as “a nigger name' Balum” (Twain, Anthology 294).What Jim does not reveal is whether Balum is a slave or free. He very well could be free. This happens several times in Huckleberry Finn, where a black person’s political status goes unmentioned. In a country where some blacks were free and others were slaves, characters and student readers cannot automatically assume every black character is a slave. However, by replacing the N-word the NewSouth edition automatically makes this incorrect assumption, and misinforms student readers. Twain’s original use of the N-word complicates students’ perceptions of the black characters, sometimes blurring the separation between free and slave, and black and white, while at the same time using the N-word as a constant reminder of their inferior place in the world of the text.

Depicting American Culture

Although some scholars, such as David L. Smith, agree with Gribben that “Twain uses ‘nigger’ throughout the book as a synonym for slave” (Smith 249), ultimately this “synonym” fails to stand against the weight of the N-word. Gribben claims, “The synonym ‘slave’ expresses the cultural racism that Twain sought to convey” (“Reuniting”13). If that were the case, Twain – who was an expert on word choice - would have used the term “slave” instead. Gribben also reasons, “slavery is recognized globally as an affront to humanity” (13) and later explains, “The word ‘slave’ also usefully reminds readers of the historical fact that ten percent of the Missouri population in 1850 consisted of African American slaves.” He goes on to mention that Arkansas had a 26% slave population and Mississippi had 55% (13). Although this information helps students understand conditions prior to the Civil War, focusing only on slavery as an affront blinds students to the bigger problem of racism. The term “slave” may be an affront that applied to these 10, 26, and 55 percents, but the N-word is an affront that applies to 100% of people, regardless of skin color, whether free or enslaved, where they lived, and whether they lived then or live now. Slavery as practice in America has been abolished, but racism has not.

The NewSouth edition inadvertently emphasizes to students that slavery is something of the past, whereas Twain’s original text reminds students that racism has not yet been eradicated. “Slave” lulls twenty-first century students into a sense that, “America is better than that now.” It implies that a condition is over and done with, that discrimination no longer exists in contemporary, politically correct society. The N-word harshly reminds students that racism and prejudice persist; otherwise, the term would not continue to be so offensive. Twain’s original Huckleberry Finn stands against time because its message against racism remains relevant to students today. Educators can engage students in meaningful classroom discussions and help students connect with the text’s themes in ways that relate to them. The NewSouth edition may ease the pain many students and educators feel towards the N-word, but it also runs the risk of distancing students rather than helping students confront their own experiences, reactions, and beliefs toward racism.

Educator and Student Responsibilities

Rather than teaching readers to eschew uncomfortable subject matter, educators have an obligation to teach students how to acknowledge and respect all aspects of history and literature with a mature and cultured perspective. The Common Core encourages students “to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective” (National Governors Association “Key Points”). Students will encounter various books, movies, music, and other media throughout their life, many of which may contain racial slurs, profanity, sexual content, and violence, among other aspects texts commonly get censored for. If students should learn anything, it is that when they encounter offensive material they can carefully examine its placement and how it reflects culture. Students can acquire skills to analyze texts for themselves and reach their own conclusions. They do not have to like every book they read nor do they have to agree with the perspectives they encounter.


Since its first publication, Huckleberry Finn has endured criticism. [15] Nowadays it seems the book cannot win: the book is banned with the N-word and it is lambasted without it. Educators will face enormous pressures no matter which text they offer students. The N-word is part of the novel, and for better or worse Twain used the word to reflect American culture. True shame lies within a readership that cannot accept its history. Perhaps this is because in some ways Americans are stuck in the past, and the racism in Huckleberry Finn constantly reminds them of their lack of social progress. Columnist Elon James White summarizes the NewSouth edition best: “To pretend this is for some higher good is to insult the intelligence of the American public.” The same applies to educators and students. The censored edition will impede student learning, whereas the original version will foster growth. [16] Educators can empower students with strategies to understand literature better and to confront America’s past. [17] Hearn comments, “One consequence of reading Huckleberry Finn that Twain’s critics fail to consider is that the book may actually discourage racism” (cli). Mark Twain’s original, unaltered novel challenges American students to embrace the harsh realities of their culture and history.

The good news: better-censored versions exist, such as the Patriot’s Edition. After all, "If you're going to read a censored version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it might as well be the version about Huck and his Navy SEAL friend Jim" (Chung). Readers will find themselves laughing again because this and other parodied versions better reflect Twain’s sense of humor that “persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished” (Twain, Anthology 264). If Jim can’t be a nigger no more, he might as well be a Navy SEAL, robot, hipster, or any term a reader chooses because, ultimately, no word can accurately replace the N-word.



1. Huckleberry Finn frequently appears on the American Library Association’s lists of Most Frequently Challenged Books. See “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990–1999.” and “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.”

2. The NewSouth Edition combines Adventures of Tom Sawyer with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The N-word is censored in both novels. Tom Sawyer receives further changes: “Injun Joe” is replaced with “Indian Joe,” and “half-breed” is replaced with “half-blood” (Gribben, “Reuniting” 14).

3. Admittedly, focusing a study of Huckleberry Finn to less than a fifth of a percent of its word choices seems limiting by itself. It is amazing that 0.2% of the novel’s words would come under scrutiny, but the N-word itself is powerful.

4.  In 1983 John H. Wallace published a similar version that replaced the N-word with “slave” (Hearn cxliii).

5. Full texts of Huckleberry Finn are available online, making it possible to download the textinto a word processor document and, with a “search and replace” function, replace the N-word any term he or she likes. I conducted a similar experiment using the Project Gutenberg edition, and found 212 occurrences of the term “nigger,” 6 occurrences of “slave,” and 5 occurrences of “slavery.” The term “negro” was used once in Twain’s introduction, and “black” was used only 3 times as a reference to skin color.

6. The Hipster Huckleberry Finn edited by Richard Grayson, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Robotic Edition edited by Gabriel Diani and Etta Divine.

7. Gribben explains that, in his experience, teachers’ attempts to “inoculate” (“Reuniting” 13) their students against the effects of the N-word by explaining its etymology are “well-meaning but usually futile” (13). Providing background information should not be about inoculating students, but rather about preparing them to confront the caustic nature of the N-word.

8. Nigger is fascinating precisely because it has been put to a variety of uses and can radiate a wide array of meanings” (Kennedy 34). Kennedy mentions how it can be insulting, complimentary, belittling, and respectful (37).

9. The Common Core Standards addressed throughout this paper apply specifically to grades 11-12, although similar standards can be found at lower grade levels. Standard RL.11-12.9 relates closest to Huckleberry Finn because it specifically expects students to “Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature” (National Governors Association, “Common Core”).

10. Gribbens recounts, “Some objectors charged that I was second-guessing Twain’s artistry and demonstrating little respect for his ability with phrasing. One of my favorite sayings of his — about the difference between lightning and a lightning-bug — was often quoted back to me. I found this notion to be downright comical, since I am on record, in articles and encyclopedia entries, as praising Twain’s knack for using exactly the right words in the right places” (“Huck Finn”).

11. “Few of the instances that evoke the N word in Huck Finn seem out of the ordinary, given the time and place; on many occasions Twain puts his most racist venom in the mouths of his most ignorant characters, such as Pa Finn. More instructive, however, are the scene in which members of the pampered, landowning elite (whom Huck calls ‘the quality’) use language routinely ascribed to the unwashed and unlettered” (Asim 107)..

12. After Jim is officially free, about 7,000 words remain in the narrative, which is approximately 6.3% of the whole text. The N-word appears 31 times, 14.6% of the total use of the N-word throughout the text. This obvious imbalance implies an increase in the appearance of the N-word.

13. Tom Sawyer reenters the book approximately four fifths through. The last 21.3% of the book contains 38.2% of the N-words, and 36.4% of Huck’s specific use of the N-word. It seems Tom’s presence influences Huck.

14. The exact breakdown of characters who use the N-word is as follows: Huck- 132, Pa Finn – 6, Jim -14, Woman from Chapter 11 - 8, Men on Raft from Chapter 16 – 2, Old Man from Chapter 19 - 2, Jack- 1, Mary Jane- 1, Duke- 10, King- 3, Boy from Chapter 31 – 1, another Old Man in Chapter 33 - 1, Tom Sawyer- 10, Tom and Huck’s letter - 2, Group at town meeting in Chapter 41 - 8, Old Doctor- 10, Aunt Sally – 1. The NewSouth edition restores a scene to Chapter 16 in which Huck uses “slave” 3 times; presumably, he originally used the N-word.

15. “Twain’s novel had barely arrived in libraries before the pious minders of community virtue called for its removal, citing low-grade morality and ‘rough dialect’ among its many flaws. Nary a peep arose about the very element that makes Huck Finn so volatile in the contentious present” (Asim 106).

16. Gribben mentions “these barely educated boys and the uneducated adult characters in Missouri and Arkansas casually toss about this same racial insult a total of 218 times” (9). If one assumes these characters’ lack of education perpetuates their racist views, then the NewSouth edition only shelters students and prevents them from gaining a full understanding of American culture. While Gribben’s intent to encourage more students to read Huckleberry Finn is noble, it comes at the expense of disallowing them to honestly engage with the text.

17. “America is afraid of its past. Whether it's how it treated Native Americans, women or black people, it is constantly trying to reframe, color or flat-out ignore major aspects of our history. America, in its constant obsession with being seen as ‘awesome,’ will actively try to Photoshop its own historical portrait. The fear is that to acknowledge the past is to take the blame for it. If we take the word ‘nigger’ out of the classic ‘Huckleberry Finn’ then our kids won’t see it and then we don’t have to talk about it” (White).


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Twain, Mark. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Anthology of American Literature. Ed. George MacMichael, et al. 7th ed. New York: Macmillan, 2000. 264-448. Print.

---. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The Patriot’s Edition. Ed. E. Wylie. Web. 9 July 2011.

---. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Producer David Widger. Project Gutenberg. Web. 3 July 2011.

Twain, Mark, and Alan Gribben. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, 2011. Print.

White, Elon James. “The N-word Belongs in ‘Huckleberry Finn’.” Salon 4 Jan 2011. Web. 9 July 2011.


Amanda R. Von Der Lohe

Volume 16, Issue 2, The Looking Glass, September/October 2012

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"Old Jim Won’t Be a N*gger No More: Ramifications of Using Censored Versions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the Classroom" © Amanda R. Von Der Lohe, 2012.
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