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Never the Twain Shall Meet

Thomas Hart Benton Mural of Huck with N-Word Jim

This is a re-post from my January 7, 2011 blog for the late unlamented Multiply.Com.

As one who has frequently been accused of speaking in an “inappropriate” way, I am still grateful that no one has attempted to apply a muzzle to my face. (Not that some haven’t been thinking about it.) If someone tried, I would resist—which is more than poor Mark Twain can do a hundred years after his death.

Unless you have spent the last few weeks visiting the moons of Jupiter, you’ve probably heard that some publisher has attempted to bowdlerize Huckleberry Finn by giving the slave Nigger Jim a more respectable name, and I don’t mean Reginald or Percival. It’s the first word of his name—the so-called N-word—that many find objectionable.

So be it! While I would never venture to call a person of color a nigger under any circumstances, I find any attempt to tinker with a great author’s work objectionable on the face of it. If the name “Nigger Jim” is objectionable, I suggest that the offended parties restrict themselves to reading kiddie books written by the oh-so-politically-correct.

You can’t wipe out the sins of the past as if with an eraser on a clean board: People thought and wrote differently then. The past, they say, is a different country.

Yet it has not stopped people from trying. In the Eighteenth Century, Shakespeare’s plays were substantially re-written before being put on the stage—just to make them more acceptable. As soon as the powder fell out from peoples’ wigs, the changes were canned and the original was restored.

So you PC types can get all het up about this nonsense. Me, I’m going to go home and read Joseph Conrad’s The Afro-American of the Narcissus.

The picture above is a detail from a mural by Thomas Hart Benton of Huck Finn and Colored-Person James from the Missouri State Museum.

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