Changes in new edition of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ sparks controversy among readers, scholars


A new edition of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is generating a firestorm of controversy among readers and scholars alike.

New-South Books Inc., an Alabama-based book publishing company, is set to release the new version of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ in February. The book’s primary edit is changing the “n-word” to the word “slave.” Other changes include shifting “Injun Joe” to “Indian Joe” and replacing instances of “half-breed” with “half-blood.”

In the original version, written in 1885, the “n-word” appears over 200 times.

Dr. Jason Mauro, a UNF English professor and teacher of a class entitled “Mark Twain,” is at odds with the new edition of the book.

“It’s a terribly unfortunate instance where with a change of the word ‘n—–r,’ what we’re losing is Twain’s incredibly complex stance toward not only that one word but words in general,” Mauro said.

While Mauro disagrees with the edits in ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ he said the situation is not all bad.

“If the publication of this serves to have people kind of consider what effects the change of a single word might have on a larger structure, that’s all to the good.”

Dr. Keith Cartwright, a UNF English professor, acknowledges the possible motivation behind the reprinting but ultimately calls the endeavor a money-making scam.

“Given all of the talk of violence in public discourse and given our inability to engage in civil discourse, I understand why someone might republish ‘Huck Finn’ this way,” he said. “So I understand, but I still think it’s largely money-making.”

Seeing as 125 years have passed since the original publishing of the book, the social climate of the United States has changed, including outlooks on the use of racial slurs like the “n-word.”

Views of the use of such racial slights, particularly in literature, vary on a person-to-person basis, even within the ethnicity in question.

Brittany Herndon, a member of UNF’s African American Student Union, said she didn’t think the original version of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ should be changed.

“It’s still a piece of literature, written at a time racism and prejudice was prevalent,” Herndon said. “It doesn’t affect our people [African-Americans] because it’s outdated; it’s not our culture anymore.”

Christa Merix, committee chair of the African American Student Union, believes the “n-word” has no place in ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ but the use of “slave” in its place isn’t appropriate.

“If they’re gonna change the word, they should change it to ‘negro,’” Merix said. “‘Slave’ is the same equivalent [to the ‘n-word’] in regard to the time period.”

Cartwright said changing some of the vernacular will not make the book any less racist.

“If you’re wanting to do away with racism, I think really, you’ve got to rewrite the whole book,” he said.

The controversy of both the use of racial slurs and the editing of literature is not a new occurrence, and it is far from over.

“Even the Bible is an anthology that has been so heavily edited and sort of the product of, kind of, production meetings about what’s gonna be included and what’s gonna be excluded,” Mauro said. “Translations that have moved from one language to the next and completely altered fundamental aspects of what is supposed to be, sort of, a univocal meaning.”

Mauro said the fascination people have with changing books to make them seem more respected is cyclical.

“It goes in cycles. I think you can track three or four very consistent waves of people wanting to edit, amend and block out certain kinds of texts,” Mauro said. “We’ll watch this cycle play out forever.”