Can Real be Offensive?

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January 4, 2011 by Beth Hess

I just read a very interesting article about one publishing house’s decision to remove the “n” word from its latest printing of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and replace it with something less offensive to today’s readers. (http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/01/03/huckleberry-finn-n-word-censor-edit/) Well, you can be sure my journalism degree shook on the wall with that headline! I had a PHYSICAL reaction (faster heartbeat, sweaty palms… you know the feeling.) Edit Mark Twain?? Are you kidding me?? Let’s throw some clothes on the Venus di Milo, too, huh?

I understand the argument. I really do. Huck Finn has always been a controversial work, even banned by many schools, because of the use of that one word. This new version, which according to the article will use the word “slave” instead, will allow more teachers to use it in their classrooms, introducing students to a classic they may not have otherwise read. Ok, that’s valid. One comment on the article said it’s no different from an “edited for content” version of a movie classic. And I can buy that, too. But I am looking at this news through the lens of authenticity, and I find it really hard to stomach an edited Mark Twain.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my journey is about “Letting go of who I think I am supposed to be and embracing who I am.” And who I am will not please everyone. Who I am may be controversial in some circles. Who I am might make you uncomfortable. Who I am might not be popular. But it is who God made me to be. And it is real.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in its original version, was written from a place of pretty clear authenticity of the practices and language of the people in that time and place. Authors, especially the masters like Twain, choose their words carefully to convey exactly what they are trying to say. It may be ugly, but it’s real.

We are all “offensive” … we all have pieces we wish we could edit away, pretty up, make more presentable. But I have to believe that desire is more about looking good to others than it is about being true to myself. So I think I’ll stick to being an original, warts and all. And I happen to think Huck Finn should be, too.

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