Wednesday, January 12, 2011

That Euphemism Won't Do

In my continuing effort to avoid mention of today's that-which-cannot-be-euphemised-away, I return to the utter, cosmic stupidity of removing the word nigger from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Consider that within the pages of the novel, because Jim was black, men with dogs hunted him to return him to slavery and, later, to collect a bounty on him for a crime he didn't commit. He had no prospect of a fair trial, but on the slight chance his captors would see Huck still alive at his side and realize he was innocent, the captors would return Jim to his "owner." She would surely make a brutal example of him, holding back only enough to carry through on her original plan to quite literally sell him down the river, where he'd stand even less chance of seeing his family again.

This was among the sunnier fates Jim was trying to flee because he was black; the less sunny version had him tortured to death upon capture.

Removing a word barely touches the racism present in the world of that novel. Removing the word makes a disgusting network of social, political, and legal circumstances sound slightly more palatable. It removes some of the sting of reading it, and likewise it removes some of the dramatic tension and some of the irony. So, likewise, would re-writing it in a way that made race irrelevant, but that's not the world Twain embodied and formed into a novel. The world he represented was ugly, right down to its everyday phrasing.

The novel also telegraphs a path beyond that ugliness, but it's necessary to read the novel -- harsh words and well beyond -- to see that.

2 comments:

Bret “Ginx” Alan said...

If the book on tape was read as a rap, it would win a BET award.

Dale said...

Ginx, uh, yea. I think I hear what you're saying. John Stewart's show a couple of nights back had a similar quip about it.