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Philadelphia Inquirer: Don't rewrite literature

Toward the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the young raft-riding narrator says, "If I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it and ain't agoing to no more."
He didn't know the half of the troubles this book, first published in 1884, was going to cause. While hailed as the greatest of American novels, Huck Finn now makes headlines because of attempts to ban its use in schools for, among other things, its frequent use of the unsettling word nigger.

No matter if author Mark Twain was accurately capturing the speech and attitudes of the times in a work of art.

No matter that the book is about recognizing the humanity of others, or that it is the much-abused runaway slave Jim who helps Huck start to outgrow the racism and hatred of his time.

Today, the word offends. So the solution often is to ban it.

NewSouth publishers plans to release an updated version of the classic that removes the terms nigger and Injun. The publisher hopes the book "sparks good debate" about language, censorship, and racial slurs. Perhaps the first debate can be on giving in to fear.

Art aside for the moment, Americans decided long ago that they would not run away from words or ideas. Over time, it was believed, after rigorous debate, truth would win out. And contrary to what some believe, Americans can handle the truth. Ask the Cherry Hill School District.

Huck Finn was axed from the district's curriculum in 1997 after complaints about the racial epithets and the negative portrayal of blacks. That act of self-censorship could have been the end of the story. Instead, parents, teachers, students, and others sat and talked through the problem.

The result was an updated curriculum that put Huck in context. When it is read alongside the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, with its own use of racial epithets, it's obvious that the dialogue in Huck is a product of its time. And Jim's subservient posturing takes on new meaning after reading such powerful poems as "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar, and "Minstrel Man" by Langston Hughes.

More powerful than the curriculum itself is the faith the district put in its students and their ability to think critically, analyze, discuss, and understand literature, satire, and social commentary.

That curriculum inspired a PBS documentary that can be found at It's a good reminder that Americans can work through difficult issues in constructive and positive ways, without resorting to fear or self-censorship.

Sumber: Philadelphia Inquirer

** Terima kasih kepada Pak Darma Mohammad atas info laman ini.


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