Beyond N-Words: More Ways to Sanitize “Huck Finn”

The erupting kerfuffle (rock band name?)  surrounding the, uh, whitewashed and n-wordless edition of Huckleberry Finn has brought forth hundreds of opiners, most of them in favor of leaving a 150-year old book as it was written. That seems smart. Once we start trying to make a classic conform to modern sensibilities (assuming, of course, that we should even try),  where does it all end?

Good question. I wrote a letter on that very subject to the New York Times, and they ran it in the online edition:

What About Pap?

I’m most appalled at Twain’s insensitive and unscientific treatment of Pap, Huck’s alcoholic father, who is easily the book’s most unfortunate character and the helpless “slave” of a moralistic, Puritanical society that insists on seeing his
addictions–which no doubt have a genetic basis and can also be attributed to the advertising-driven greed of a capitalist oligarchy–as proof of personal corruption and evil. 

Note, for example, that Pap is always depicted as dirty, unshaven, sallow-skinned–almost, in fact, a leper. Little wonder that near the end of the book, he is found in the wreckage of a flood-wracked house. Why not? He is merely a piece of human garbage to be thrown away!

As this alco-phobic novel is rewritten to reflect the more enlightened ethos of our time, I hope Pap will be given his due. I suggest the addition of a scientist/social worker character, perhaps a visiting cousin of Judge Thatcher, who can diagnose Pap properly and set him on the road to recovery.


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