“What’s in a name? That which we call a “slave”
By any other name wouldn’t drive home Twain’s anti-racist satire.”
Well, that isn’t exactly how Romeo and Juliet goes, but, heck, the old play needs to be updated to keep up with the modern Orwellians who have improved on Huckleberry Finn in a new edition, just like Thomas Bowdler who in the early 19th century improved on Shakespeare…er I mean his sister Harriet did, but she couldn’t be recognized, you know, because of being a woman. But, of course, we can’t expect students to understand such historical wrongs, right? We need to hide the fact, distort the text; “war is peace”; it might offend and harm little overly sensitive girls and boys somewhere.
I can’t wait to see what these new publishers will do with the Song of Songs in the Bible.
I hope Orwell and Bowdler won’t sue me from the nether regions. Well, technically, Orwell wasn’t really Orwell, nor was Twain, Twain. (Was Bowdler, Bowdler?) But two chose to alter their names themselves, didn’t give others the right to write their works, right? Right on!
I hope hog farmers don’t change Animal Farm too. Or sue me…you know, sooey, sooey! Suing, it ain’t right! Oops, some ignoramus out there may be upset that I didn’t follow the rules of standard usage. “Ain’t” might harm some student somewhere who can’t learn the difference between dialect usage; ain’t likely, isn’t that right?
And speaking of suing, that makes me think of the controversy of white people using the word Sioux. Allegedly, a few Indians are protesting. In’jun Joe isn’t among them as he has been eliminated in the new Huckleberry Finn, that is his name has been changed. Why would they be upset at anyone using the French name, since according to scholars it had negative connotations?
What if, for heaven’s sake, we let literature including terms and names remain as the authors created them? What if, instead, we taught students how to interpret the texts rather than alter the texts?
All of this political correctness reminds me that back in the 90’s, allegedly, a school named Mark Twain Junior High School banned the book Huckleberry Finn. I wonder if that improbability actually happened. A real grave turnover of Twain. Nah, no one would do that or change the title of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, because California wineries got upset at the disapprobation of wine grapes—might hurt them;-) LOL
Seriously, we adults can still be sensitive to the needs of students. When teaching Huck Finn to remedial high school students years ago, I was concerned about the word, concerned that one African-American (Black, then) might be offended, so I discussed it with him. He laughed—turns out he understood literature enough to realize that offensive words in a novel aren’t a personal attack on him. But he said, still grinning, what I could do is say “brother” out loud whenever the word came up, just in case some students might be troubled.
So I explained to the class the reason Samuel Clemens used the term, how he was writing an anti-racist but realistic, local color story, a narrative that uses five authentic dialects of English. Students were to read the actual text in their books, but I said I would use the word “brother” in my daily oral reading. I did and it all worked out fine. Indeed, dealing with the controversial term actually helped the weak readers gain an understanding of satire, 19th century literature, and controversial words. Plus, the minor humor added to the laughter students often experienced as they read along in this, one of the funniest books ever written.
Individual words are very important in literature (ala Edgar Allan Poe), not just fluff which can be excised or altered by censors. Consider, for instance, a character named Rennis, in one of Anthony Burgesses’ novels. When a reader asked Burgess why he called his character such an unusual name, Burgess said he didn’t know. Rennis was a good person who regressed backwards gradually turning to more and more evil behavior. A critic noticed the character’s name Rennis is an anagram, a characteronym, “sinner” spelled backwards just like his behavior!
Lastly, remember if someone in print calls me a “paddy” because I am Irish, I’m not going to sit in the corner and cry or pout until a publisher alters the term to Finn;-) or “slave.” Talk about slavish political correctness! Roll over Twain…rolling on the river of life, on the mighty Mississip…
I'm going to light out for the territory with Huck and Jim...we all need to be free.
In the Light,