In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain the word “nigger” should not be replaced with “slave” in an attempt to ameliorate racial tension. Authors choose their words very carefully to convey a specific message. They want the reader to understand the time period they are describing. They also want to find the precise words to shape their characters and help the reader create the proper images for them. Authors need readers to understand the culture and societal norms in which the story takes place.
When we read classics we are studying two facets: the author’s ability to convey a message applicable for all generations and to explain history. Words and their meaning have changed throughout history but that does not mean that use of these words is an incorrect portrayal of the past. When reading classics the focus must be on the attitudes of the book’s time period and how the attitudes compare to those of today. There is no reason to change the author’s writing simply because the words used are unacceptable today. There is conflict throughout history and controversial books allow teachers the ability to discuss those topics. These books give the educator historical evidence of the nature of society in the past.
(Smiley) Professor Fishkin says “Racism is ugly. The history and legacies of American racism are our nation’s own peculiar brand of ugly — and the n-word embodies it.” The reason that using the n-word in Huckleberry Finn poses such a problem is because there is still racism in America today. Teachers need to separate their students from the racism in society and focus on the racism which was present in history and how it is portrayed in the novel. The n-word degrades black people and shows the world how destructive this word can be. Mark Twain uses the n-word to portray irony in society. In the novel Pap Finn goes on a rant and says that it is unfair that a free black man who was a professor in college could vote in Ohio and he could not be sold into slavery until he had been in Missouri for six months.
Mark Twain could not have used the word “slave” since this black man was free and simply saying that he was a “free black man” would not show Pap’s hatred towards this man as strongly as the n-word does. In the 1800’s the n-word was used in a specific way and to portray specific societal ideas and replacing this word detracts from the harshness the n-word possesses. (Fishkin) We must also remember that by changing the word we are ignoring history, we are mitigating the hatred of black people by white people. Black people were not only slaves, who must follow their master’s commands, but they were also called “niggers”, they were considered the property of their master. Jim was not only a slave, he was also property and that shows the reality at that time in the South towards black people.
They were not afforded justice or freedom, rather their lives were determined by others. Today we must remember the anguish of history and not diminish the effect it had on the lives of so many people. “Nigger” reopens the wounds of slavery which were closed years ago. Slavery is a part of our history and may not be forgotten and by changing “nigger” to “slave” we are rewriting history. (Matthews)Authors put much thought into choosing their words. Each word has a purpose and conveys a message to the reader. Mark Twain used the word “nigger” 219 times in his novel which means that the word is crucial to the understanding of the story.
We have no right to take away a word from someone else’s novel. As Ms. Nelson says it is as if we are “substituting orange for red in a painter’s work because some observers find red too aggressive.
” The word “nigger” was a common word and is still a word used today and although it is not used the same way it was and is a large part of society. (Nelson) Twain himself once said that “the difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter.” Twain chose his words with much consideration and his effort must not be diminished. He obviously had reasoning behind his use of a word 219 times and therefore if we replace the word “nigger” which the word “slave” we are changing the book entirely and it is no longer Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. (Fishkin) Every word has a specific definition and connotation and therefore words are not simply interchangeable.
Mr. Matthews explains how slave can be someone who was unlucky and was a “member of the wrong caste or maybe a victim of some feudal system” whereas a “nigger” is someone who was treated as property rather than a human. It is someone who was dehumanized and disgraced in society.
We have no right to say that these two ideas are equal and therefore if “slave” is used in the novel we hold back from the reader the context necessary to fully understand the story and its implications. (Matthews)The characteristics of characters and their developments are portrayed throughout a novel. Taking away the word “nigger” diminishes the magnitude of Huckleberry’s growth. “Nigger” shows the reader how horribly black people were viewed at this time and even though that was the society which Huckleberry was raised in he was still able to overcome that and be friends with Jim. By the conclusion of the novel we see the wisdom which Huckleberry gained throughout his adventures, black people are real people.
He learned that black people have families and they care about their families the same way that white people do. The use of the word “nigger” highlights the negative attitude white people had about black people and Huckleberry’s capability to overcome that. (Matthews) This same idea applies to Jim as well. Jim is depicted as the “noble character” since despite the negative feelings society has towards him he remains good. Jim has common sense and is capable of making decisions which help himself and Huckleberry during their adventures.
Even though Jim is a slave and treated horribly by society he remains trusting and loyal to Huckleberry, his friend. He does not believe that Huckleberry will mislead him or cause suffering upon him. Without the word “nigger” society is not portrayed as negatively towards Jim which minimizes the good nature that Jim has and his constant ability to believe in the good in people.
(Bauerlein) The word “nigger” is critical to the appreciation of the novel. Mark Twain has taken on the task of portraying the characters in his chosen time period. 0 He uses the necessary words to correctly describe the people and the places in the time. The use of the word “slave” in place of “nigger” would detract from the reader’s understanding of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.