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Home » ART[icle]S, Censorship Issue

Censorship Issue: Huckleberry Finn, Looking at the Censored Book in Context

Submitted by on June 10, 2012 – 12:58 pmNo Comment

 

An 1884 cover of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

The old tale of Huckleberry Finn will be released as a new film next year but the best-loved story has had a very unpopular past.

The film currently in production, Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, directed by Jo Kastner, combines the stories of the two books by the author Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn was intended as a sequel to Twain’s previous book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both novels are set in the town of St.Petersburg, Missouri.

Twain first published Huckleberry Finn in England in 1884 and a year later in the United States. Reviews were favourable initially but the novel has always been one of controversy. In the US, it  was first banned for its “crudeness” and one library even described it as “rough, course and inelegant.”

The original version of the book has been criticised for its excessive use of the “n” word, even though Twain categorically denied that the main character was racist and the slurs were merely a reflection of the times that he was trying to portray. Last year, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and New South Books released a version of the book without the “n” word and also “in” word for “Injun”, instead substituting it with “slave”.

The practice of censoring books extends over hundreds of years and still continues to this day. What could books such as Winnie the Pooh, Lady Chatterley, Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye,  Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Mein Kampf  and the Bible all have in common? At some point in their history someone tried to censor them. When something is censored it becomes that much more enticing and intriguing. It’s like telling a man a certain woman is off limits or denying a child the toy they want to buy – they want it that much more.

The story of Huckleberry Finn starts by recapping the events at the end of Tom Sawyer, where Huck gains quite a lot of money and is adopted by Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson. Huck however is not happy in his new life of manners and church visits and is only persuaded to keep it up by Tom Sawyer, who tells him that in order for him to join his gang of robbers, Huck must stay “respectable”. Then Huck’s’ father, the town drunk, shows up and kidnaps him but Huck does not stick around for long. He fakes his own death and runs off with Jim, a runaway black slave who works in the town.

This leads both boys onto an adventure that has become one of the most famous in American literature. Huckleberry Finn tackles the subjects of slavery, discrimination and the difficulties of growing up in a morally flawed society with poignancy. By the end, both boys are transformed into young men who have seen the ugly side of the world but continue to have hope for it. Huck finally sees past the colour of Jim’s skin and accepts him as a fellow human being.

Not much is known, at this stage, about how the new film Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn will interpret the book.  Yet those who criticise the book in its original form seem to forget that the story was  set in the 1830s, when black slavery was rife and that Huck is a semi literate child who was merely a product of his environment and that the book is an accurate historical reflection of that period.

 

 

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