Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

The Thought Police Are At It Again / What's Wrong With Options?

In the ninth grade, I was introduced to George Orwell when our class read Animal Farm, and was so engrossed by Orwell’s style of writing that I read his other celebrated novel, 1984. The text was rich in language, provocative in ideas, and unflinching in tone. 1984 told of the Thought Police, and how they eliminated anyone suspected of free thought, speech, or actions. They were the ultimate bowdlerizers, expurgators of all things objectionable. In short, the book was meant to beget reflection and provoke thought by the reader, as well as warn against society’s future.

Now, with the renewed debates over Huckleberry Finn, spurred on by NewSouth Books’ expurgated version of Mark Twain’s classic novel, I can’t help but be reminded of Orwell’s book. NewSouth Books hopes to “modernize” the classic by removing the word; but to alter Huck Finn by removing the “n-word” is to attack free thought, a principle Americans pride themselves in. Additionally, it is important to note that Huckleberry Finn is a historical novel, an account of the period in which it is set. Removing the language makes the novel historically inaccurate and twists the meaning of its pages. It is true that the “n-word” holds a different meaning today than it did in Twain’s time, however the solution is neither to bowdlerize the book nor to remove it from the curriculum. The solution is to equip teachers with the right tools to clearly explain the significance and context of the word. The only way to get Americans to be honest about prejudice is to force them to learn something that makes up such a definitive part of our racist past.


Censoring Twain’s novel is like censoring our history, where we only allow our next generation to learn events in which our country has been honorable, noble or politically correct. The problem with that approach would not only be the lack of events in our history in which these requirements are met, but our voluntary ignorance. We can’t change or run away from our past, but we can certainly learn from it by putting everything into perspective. In the end, we should embrace the thought-provoking ideas that Huckleberry Finn offers, along with the subsequent discussions. Otherwise, we won’t just stop with Twain, but will continue to expunge and deny our past. Then, we might just one day find ourselves in our own Orwellian society.



What’s Wrong With Options?

Most people can clearly recall their teenage years. Upon reflection, the majority of individuals realize that a prominent characteristic of those awkward adolescent days was the desire to assimilate, to fit in, and to be accepted. We all recall that sickening dread we felt when we were put on the spot or were the victims of unwanted attention. It is one of the most torturous, wicked feelings a teenager can have. And keeping Huckleberry Finn in the high school curriculum ensures those very same emotions for today’s young readers, regardless of the teenager’s race.

The “n-word” in Mark Twain’s novel makes Huckleberry Finn a “deeply problematic work;” not just because it punches you with its racial affronts once or twice, but over 200 times. These racial epithets attack and degrade African-Americans for a physical characteristic they have absolutely no control over. And that makes for painful class discussions in classrooms across the country. No other book that mentions an epithet over 200 times towards another group would ever be allowed in the curriculum, so why is it acceptable to exempt Huck Finn?

And why such controversy over Mr. Gribben’s updated version? Do “clean” versions of popular songs on iTunes spur on angry protests? Obviously they don’t, since buyers have the option of downloading the profanity-filled version or the clean version of a song. It’s all about options. And that is what Mr. Gribben, the mastermind behind this new version, is providing: the option of buying a version of a dated novel that will make many readers comfortable enough to pay attention to what is being taught about the book, and to easily play an active role in classroom discussions. The new edition of Mark Twain’s novel will put the book back on high school reading lists and prevent an achievement gap caused by an isolation of a specific faction. Adults who argue that this new edition changes the language of the entire novel aren’t taking into consideration the youths required to read it. If people become older, more mature and more experienced reading classical literature and want to read the version with the “n-word,” more power to them. However, having a novel that says a derogatory word over 200 times is not a proper introduction into serious literature for teenagers. The issue is black-and-white.



Join the Discussion


This article has 1 comment. Post your own!

HopefulWolfThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm:
You have a talent for both writing and considering the opinions of others!
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback