One of those times when you really should use the word “nigger”

That a school doesn’t want to teach Huck Finn any more is entirely their choice. However, I rather doubt the reasoning process that led them to that decision:

“We have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits,” Mr Hall said.

The head of the school said the N-word references within the text was “challenging” for some pupils. He added that the word made some feel that the school was not being inclusive.

As Twain wrote it, and as any sensible modern reading would still have it, the use of that word nigger is one of the most powerful, and liberal, parts of the book.

For here we’ve got Huck, on his raft, and he knows, absolutely, that if he aids that nigger, that escaped slave, that he’s going to damn his soul to Hell for all eternity.

At which point he aids that nigger, that escaped slave.

What better example of do the right thing, of taking the moral path rather than the societally acceptable one, would anyone like to point to in literature? Especially children’s literature?

Yes, obviously, we all know the uses of that word, the oppression and vileness that has accompanied its use. and yet here it’s not just acceptable it produces a large part of the very power of the point being made.

As I say, what a school teaches and how it teaches it is up to said school: but I do think this is a wrong turn.

17 thoughts on “One of those times when you really should use the word “nigger””

  1. It’s use was of the time. Now in fact to my mind it helps to reinforce the message that the book is giving about helping and going outside those social mores of the time. It may well not have been quite intended like that when written but it certainly helps the cause now..

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    It is a complicated moral issue which is hard to explain to children.

    Yes it is ridiculous to ban books, but some books probably shouldn’t be given to children and modern children no longer live in a world where a single part of that story makes any sense whatsoever. So explaining it is tough.

  3. Why not change it to ‘nigel’? Still works. We get to keep the book, and the imaginary hobgoblins of “community relations” are driven away back to the opinion columns.

  4. I actually think this is a tough call, and I think we can all understand that children or young adults in particular may find the offensive (and now toxic) language confusing or uncomfortable. In a compulsory education setting with minors it might not be appropriate; by contrast, in a post-compulsory setting with “adults”, it raises the sort of complex and difficult issues that people supposedly go to college/university to learn and discuss and argue about. So I’d be quite disturbed if a university banned a book (particularly a culturally and historically important “classic”) on these kind of grounds, but not so much for a high school.

    Certainly as Timmy says there’s a difference between the use of the n-word in Twain and, say, “Heart of Darkness”. The latter book I think would not be suitable in a high school setting, Twain you can reasonably argue over.

    FWIW we had uncensored versions of Twain at primary school (in England), but I think those days are long gone! (Not just because primary school kids wouldn’t be expected to read a “proper” book anymore, but perhaps partly that too…)

  5. “I think we can all understand that children or young adults in particular may find the offensive (and now toxic) language confusing or uncomfortable.”

    Unless they listen to rap. In which case they might wonder what all the fuss is about, and why they spelled it differently in olden times…

  6. It’s probably not suitable for primary school children, but 16 or 17 year olds? Good grief. Then again, these are Quakers who are utter scum and see conflict resolution as someone else’s job.

    I read another version of this story where a teacher in another school talked about using the book to describe the history, how language changes and so forth.

  7. I got very fond of Jim, not least because Huck’s language was sometimes baffling and Jim was a great explainer to my 12 year old self.

  8. Some years ago I wrote a story referencing the Nigger Comment of Twain’s and had an editor send it back with a question of the wisdom of its use, “Will we be sued.” Not being a judge I did not know but thought not I said. The word was finally included in the story. Proving even editors can sometimes do the right thing, oui? ~ LEJ.org

  9. Well fuck me, I remember when fuck and cunt were the toxic words.

    What kind of fucking cunt wants to ban books or fail to tell children critical things from history including the evils flowing from slavery?

    Teachers should be saying “Children, ‘nigger’ was a terrible insulting name for black people enslaved and then badly oppressed in the past, so if you use it in anything but an analytical fashion, I will beat you senseless with a cane. And you will read this Huck Finn book to understand why.”

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  11. “At which point he aids that nigger, that escaped slave”

    And later on, Huck says, straight out, that he would rather go to Hell than to treat Jim differently.

    That seems to me the whole philosophical point of the book.

    I can’t imagine a more powerful statement – in the 19th century, or today.

  12. The irony of it all – sure missed by the functional illiterates that pass for “teachers” these days – is that the character of Jim is the very first representation of an African-American as an actual human being in the history of American literature.

    What needs to be emphasized here is that this isn’t an attempt to eradicate the use of the word, or to shield the delicate sensibilities of youth (all of whom have heard the word hundreds of times in the rap music they’ve been exposed to), it’s an attempt to destroy American history and culture.

    The simple fact of the matter is if a black man is called a nigger in the U.S. these days, the most likely person to be uttering the word is another black man. But then again, since when to SJWs care about facts?

  13. ‘Nigger’ is a word. Yes, it has a history, but anyone who finds it offensive, triggering or threatening should grow up and become more robust. Because it is a matter of free speech.

    And the history is more than racial. The dambuster, Guy Gibson, used it as the code for breaching the Mohne dam.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger_(dog)

    I am tempted to name my next black labrador Nigger. Would I be prosecuted for calling him by name?

  14. These are 16-17 year olds, in my school we did Brave New World for O level (15-16)
    I sometimes wonder if those that talk about Young Adult fiction as a new category and mention the Hunger Games having children killing children have ever read Lord of the Flies.

  15. I sometimes think we were given “Lord of the Flies” as a set text to read because it reinforced in our teenage minds what little shits we would be if it wasn’t for the benevolent education authorities directing us into the ways of reason….

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