Queen's University

Changing Huckleberry Finn

2011-01-17

Queen’s University English professor Rob Morrison is available to talk about a publisher’s decision this week to produce a version of Mark Twain’s classic book Huckelberry Finn that replaces the ‘n-word’ with ‘slave.’

Dr. Morrison says there has been pressure to change the text of classic literature before (including Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which includes the Jewish moneylender Shylock) but feels it is the wrong decision.

“You don’t touch what Mark Twain wrote. It’s a really hard book to teach, but the harder the book, the more important it is to teach it. It records a moment in our history when we behaved very badly and we should be reminded of that, not expunge it. The book provides an opportunity to say ‘look how unacceptable this word is.’ The fact that we still feel queasy now shows you how powerful it is,” says Dr. Morrison, who has taught Huckleberry Finn in his class. “You can’t change history but to claim it didn’t happen violates the dignity of the people who lived in a culture that referred to them in that way.”

Dr. Morrison is a literary expert and author. His latest book (The English Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey) was nominated for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the oldest literary prize in Britain.

To arrange an interview, please contact Michael Onesi at 613.533.6000 ext. 77513 or michael.onesi@queensu.ca or Kristyn Wallace at 613.533.6000 ext. 79173 or kristyn.wallace@queensu.ca at News and Media Services, Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.

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