The fine line between constructive adjustment and deleterious alteration has always been a controversial and much debated one in the publishing world.
That said, the debate over the consequences of manipulating original text is brought to a head when such alterations are directed at an American literary classics such as Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
The issue was brought to the public’s attention most recently by Louisiana-based publishing company NewSouth Books, when they announced their plans to replace the N-word with “slave” and “Injun” with “Indian” in future publications of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Supporters of the change argue that the insensitive implications of both words interfere with the accessibility of the story in American school systems, as their presence has resulted in the book’s banning in numerous academic communities.
Regardless of the word’s controversial associations, however, the connotations and meaning they add to the story are an essential part of the plot’s core revelation when depicting Jim, an African American slave fighting for freedom in the heavily segregated region of the American South.
Today, censoring is often accepted as a necessary tool to appropriate specific aspects of society to a diverse demographic.
The prudence of such alterations must be questioned, however, when their instigation alters the central message or purpose of a work.
English department head and Mark Twain scholar at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alan Gribben, who was inspired by the amount of teachers confessing they were unable to incorporate the book into their curriculum because of its “offensive” language, will oversee the change.
Gribben defends the alterations, which he knew would be received with mixed reviews, saying, “This is not an effort to render ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’ colorblind…Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
The company plans to have the edited edition of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in circulation in the American market by February 2011.
Such alteration of original text, and ultimately, the intended purpose, is unnecessary and unjustified, especially when only done in order to increase its accessibility for a few conservative school districts.