High school perspectives on "Huckleberry Finn"

Editor's note: Earlier this month, Woodbury High School teacher Karen Morrill wrote a commentary arguing that the text of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" posed a legitimate difficulty for teachers. Today, several of her students offer their own perspectives on the question.

By Matt Veldoff

While I can understand that the word "nigger" is offensive, I would also remind any critics of "Huckleberry Finn" that this is America, and in America we can print whatever books we like and read whatever books we like, no matter how offensive they may be considered to some.

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Changing books to make them less likely to offend some readers is a slippery slope. Its supporters may start as well-intentioned parents and school officials who wish only to protect children from inappropriate words and ideas.

But is it not better to show them these things and teach children why they are not acceptable? Like it or not, America used to allow slavery. Sugarcoat it any way you like; it still happened. Was it a bad thing? Yes, and I'm not trying to argue that it wasn't. But we need to teach and remember our history so that we can better appreciate how far we have come as a nation.

By Jason Sakizadeh

The "N-word" is an extremely powerful word, characterized by hate and racism. Some people shudder at its utterance; others may become enraged or may not even be fazed. This word is used over 200 times in Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and it was used for a purpose. That is why we have no right to replace the N-word with "slave" in Twain's masterpiece.

Like many people, I see "Huckleberry Finn" as more than just a novel; it is a great literary work and a symbol of American history and culture. The novel captures life in the mid-19th century and transports the reader to that time period. The reader experiences the language used by the complex characters Mark Twain so carefully conjured. Yes, the language includes the N-word. It is there for a reason: to make readers feel like they are actually present in Mark Twain's time. The word is there to make the reader think, "Oh, times sure were different back then."

Who are we to change the past? Since when can we edit American history to fit the needs of present-day Americans? We are supposed to adjust according to history, history isn't supposed to adjust according to us. The N-word has power, and that is why it is our duty to keep it where it belongs, in the pages of "Huck Finn," and not shy away from it. Yes, it is a racist slur that may be offensive to some people, but it was used commonly as a tool of degradation. The 19th-century experiences of Huck Finn just wouldn't be the same without that one word. Replacing it with "slave" would be a disgrace to Mark Twain, one of America's finest writers.

By Emily Verrastro and Katie Klass

Controversy about Mark Twain's use of the word "nigger" in the classic novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" has been with us for years. Many have argued that the word provided the reader with an authentic representation of the South in Twain's time. Others thought it was offensive and made people feel uncomfortable. Some schools have chosen to not allow teaching of this book because of what they considered the insensitive use of a racial slur.

As a compromise, the new version of "Huckleberry Finn" has replaced the word with "slave." We believe this is the right thing to do. The essence of the story is honored and preserved, and the change allows a larger audience to enjoy the book. The historical context in which it was written still comes through to the reader. We learn a great deal about how whites discriminated against blacks in those times. We also learn about the friendship and respect Huck demonstrated toward Jim. Calling Jim a "slave" rather than a "nigger" does not change this story.

This positive and long-overdue change allows this classic educational story to be told without any of the negatives associated with such an offensive term. Readers will be able to focus on the story, rather than being distracted by a word that hurts, offends and embarrasses many.