A fig leaf for Mark Twain

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Mark Twain's classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a scathing attack on racism and other mores during the years preceding the Civil War. But a publisher's decision to scrub the words "nigger" and "injun" from the book makes it less scathing and genuine. It makes as much sense as pasting fig leaves on sculptures to cover their genitals. Imagine Michelangelo's statue of David cloaked in fig leaves because it's not "proper" viewing for children.

Excessive prudishness accounts for all those fig leaves, just as excessively fussy political correctness accounts for the decision by book publisher NewSouth to replace the racial slurs with something supposedly less offensive. The reason: some school teachers said it was too hard to teach the classic because of some children's sensitivities. 

Wow, are these the same teachers that would oblige schools to teach sex education to kindergarteners?

We can fight all day over what is age appropriate for children, and if kids are too young to understand the nuances of antebellum racism, then maybe they should read the book later.

But keep your hands off the book.

How can you fully understand what is being attacked--as Twain is attacking

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antebellum racism--if you cloak the target of the attack in the niceties and conventions of the 21st Century? The words are part of the vernacular of the time, and if you excise them, the reader won't feel the full force of the sting that African American slaves felt at the time. 

If I looked--and I haven't--I'm sure that I could find examples of literature that includes offensive terms for Irish and German. But those terms were a part of the discrimination that my own ancestors felt. Removing them from the literature would soften the impact that my immigrant forefathers felt. Taking them out would be a disservice to everyone, including the group that you're trying to protect. 

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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