What Jim Was and What He Wasn’t.

There is a lot of discussion of a forthcoming version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Both Twain scholars and the popular press have joined the fray. As I understand it, a major feature of this new version is the replacement of a work that is of very limited usefulness and great offense with the word “slave.” Whatever one might think about the political correctness of this substitution, there is a real sense in which it misses one of the central ironies and lessons of Twain’s novel. The irony is that Jim was not the person that word implies even as he was indeed a runaway slave. Much of the power of the novel lies exactly in that irony. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is for an adult audience. Adults can and should deal with the word.
Did the offensive word come too easily off Twain’s pen? I’m not sure. He was also a creature of the nineteenth century world he sought to enlighten. And can one think of Twain’s characters speaking otherwise and still being believable?
Why did I avoid the word in this post? I didn’t need to use it. I am writing for a small twenty first century set of abnormal readers not a nineteenth century audience. Much of his audience would have never thought of Jim as the man Twain wanted them to know.

4 thoughts on “What Jim Was and What He Wasn’t.”

  1. Duane,
    I understand modern sensibility about Twain’s words, but the revision takes away the literary value of his work. If Twain is sanitized to please contemporary society, then there are thousands of other works that also will need to suffer the same fate.
    Claude Mariottini

  2. Claude,
    You made my point with fewer words and in better form. Thanks you.
    Among those works that might need revision is the Bible. We would both think that very wrong.

  3. Ah. Mrs.Grundy is back with a hey-nonny-nonny.
    On the sanitizing list? Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Swift, … and on and on. Kipling, of course; he is, BTW, quite subversive. Who are the adults to be ignored? Humans.
    What always pulls me up short is the way people think they are doing something original and different. It’s just another round of the same old — and, as usual, will go much too far and then swing back. At that point, scholars will go digging to find the ur text,

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