Two from Horn Book

Editor Roger Sutton blogs about a new n-word-free edition of Huck Finn, and includes his eloquent 1984 column about an earlier edition that did the same thing:

Huck, by Wallace, doesn’t believe “He was a mighty good n____*, Jim was.” Instead, “He was a mighty good man, Jim was.” In Twain’s book, Huck, expressing approval of Jim, says, “I knowed he was white inside.” In Wallace’s, this becomes “I knowed he was good.” Why is Wallace so eager to let Huck Finn off the hook? What was, in Twain, a telling exposure of how racism infects even the most sympathetic of characters becomes, in Wallace, just a coupla guys sitting around on a raft, talkin’. Huck is no Simon Legree. He does love Jim, but cannot escape his own racism entirely. That’s the point. The world would be a lot simpler if we had bad guys and good guys, but what we do have is a whole lot of mixed-up, uneasy people positively bustling with ignorance. And that’s Huck—us—the good guys.

And in the most recent Horn Book, “YA Fatphobia”, about the tendency of YA’s fat characters to be “pathologized” binge eaters, and the new crop of fat-acceptance YA.

I can’t comment too much on this since I haven’t read the books Kathryn Nolfi uses as examples, though now I’m curious to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson to see if I agree with her. (It was already on my list; I might bump it up.) She says, “The authors are unclear about the purpose of Tiny’s size,” which indicates to me that Tiny might be just the opposite of the standard YA fat character — not a cipher, the “point” of whose fat is as another character (as opposed to personality) trait. But I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t say.

She wraps up with:

It is possible to write compelling and unsentimental stories for teens without casually insulting fat people, without relegating fat characters to the side, and without portraying fat teens as irretrievably damaged. To rely on the easy fat joke is lazy and oppressive writing.

Word.

(Thanks to Rebecca Rabinowitz for that link.)

*I know this can be a triggery word, so I’m leaving it out. Huck Finn, read in class or not, has context and literary import that running across that word in a blog doesn’t.

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3 Responses to Two from Horn Book

  1. Pingback: Response to Horn Book fatphobia article

  2. Sam says:

    Fair enough. I will admit that I didn’t do much research into either edition; I just thought it was a well-written column on a perennial topic for jr. high/high school English classes. But you draw an important distinction between the two.

  3. Lance says:

    I’m not sure that his 1984 column is entirely on-point in relation to the new edition. I mean, it’s a terrific piece, well-written and very much to the point about the Wallace “edition” (read: “rewriting”) of the Twain novel.

    But Wallace hated Huck Finn and was trying to remove all the racism (which Sutton rightly calls him out on). Alan Gribben, the man behind the new edition, is an English professor who teaches Huck Finn, and his intent was not to remove the racism, but rather to remove a particular word that was keeping the book from being taught in schools, presumably so that the book–complete with its other-than-the-n-word racism intact, gather–can be taught, and the issues–the ones that Sutton observes are removed from the Wallace edition–can be discussed in classrooms.

    Now, there’s still a discussion to be had about whether Gribben’s idea is a good one; whether removing any of the racism weakens the impact of the book; whether this is the right way to get Twain reintroduced into classrooms; and so forth. But I don’t think that Sutton’s column, for as right as he was about the 1983 book, addresses the issues in the 2011 book.

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