Mark Twain is my favorite author of all time and his books, the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be required reading for all American children. Unfortunately, they may only be able to get the newly abridged version if political correctness has its way. NewSouth Publishing has recently announced a new edition of each where the derogatory words “nigger” and “injun” have been removed in favor of “slaves”. In the case of Huck Finn that’s a mere 219 references. Why don’t we just rewrite all of our history to reflect our more civilized view of the world today?
What makes these books critically important is their ability to reveal the true nature of this country 150 years ago. For better or worse, that’s how people talked back then and moreover that’s how we behaved towards each other. We should be deeply troubled by these truths that Twain has revealed but we should not try to change them to coincide with our current standards. Slavery and racial prejudice are horribly wrong and we still have work to do to rid our society of these curses but changing the words to a great novel only serves as an empty gesture to make us feel better.
Reading historical literature is essential if we are ever going to understand the world we live in today. The history of humanity is not neat and pretty. In fact, it’s nasty and violent and disturbing, in many ways, but we continue to evolve in spite of ourselves. That’s good news. We adapt, we get better and we help each other. Twain’s books aren’t an endorsement of prejudice but rather an adventure where blacks and whites worked together to overcome prejudice and help each other. Jim is just as much of a hero as Tom and Huck and they count him as their best friend. In the time when Twain wrote these stories, I’m sure that friendship was something that was hotly debated.
Every time we try to sugar coat history we do more harm than good. The best way to teach kids is to read to them and listen to their reactions. Then we have the opportunity to teach them the right lesson.We’re not helping them when we try to minimize the unpleasantness of daily life. We should admit our failings and resolve to try harder to do it better in the future. Children are the most hopeful beings on the planet but it should be hope based on real truth, not some arbitrary version that we invented to suit ourselves. Twain’s stories are the most truthful renderings of Civil War Era America ever recorded. These stories are just precursors to the inevitable conflict over slavery that tore this country apart for 4 years and set us on the course we have today. Any effort to edit this brutal history only serves to dishonor those who died in the War to End Slavery.
The end of racial prejudice will not come from altering history. It will only come from truthful examination of historical events and the realization that we were wrong then and wrong now if anyone still thinks prejudice is justified. The sooner we get past our ignorance the sooner we will come together for the betterment of all mankind. Political correctness doesn’t make us better people it just makes us disingenuous. We get to feel good even when we should be mad as hell. Freedom is the basis for all great human endeavors and every human deserves the chance to make the most of their God given abilities. President Kennedy summed it up this way, “If men and women are in chains anywhere in the world, then freedom is endangered everywhere.”
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