Bleeping Mark Twain? Censorship, Huckleberry Finn, and the Functions of Literature
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The most recent controversy over the use of that word in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn highlights the interactions among writing, editing, teaching, and reading, and this serves as a point of entry into a discussion of the function of literature itself. For many, works like Huckleberry Finn are touchstone texts for both enjoying and studying literature, inasmuch as the delights and the lessons of the novel spark an interest in further reading. NewSouth Books' publication of an edition of the novel that substitutes the word "slave" for the famously offensive epithet has been roundly criticized by scholars and laypersons alike. However, as editor Alan Gribben explains, the intent of this "censorship," as it is most often called, is to expand the readership and extend the influence of the novel. In his introduction, Gribben emphatically endorses the use of other, non-expurgated editions, but insists that this NewSouth Edition is intended to bring new and younger readers to Twain's masterpiece, a worthy goal, as most critics would agree. In this essay, Robert T. Tally Jr. examines the controversy over censoring Huckleberry Finn as part of a larger debate over the role of literature in education and in the world.