An Open Letter To Dr. Alan Gribben

Dear Dr. Gribben,

By now you are aware that your intention to publish a new edition of Huckleberry Finn, sans the word nigger has become a wildfire of opinion on the interwebz.  Authors and scholars are taking to their own forums and speaking against your reasoning.
As an intermediate scholar of English Literature, I too am aghast at your decision, especially considering your qualifications as a Twain scholar.
I am not particularly attached to the word ‘nigger’ itself.  I find it derogatory and unnecessary.  Today.  However, in the cultural, historical and literary context that it is used in the novel, I feel that you are severely remiss.
The novel’s (in the royal sense of ALL novels, not just HF itself) merit lies in the fact that it is social commentary in most all respects.  Novels are products of their time, and serve as accounts of mores, culture, vernacular, politics  and THE TIMES in general.  Any well rounded lecture/course/series in history are accompanied by novels of the period.  What you are doing here, seems to me to be akin to teaching a revisionist history.  By changing it, you are misrepresenting the vernacular of the period, and encouraging any new readers to ignore a significant social and cultural difference.
I find your motives hard to fathom.  To bring the novel to a wider audience?  To get it allowed in schools?  What, I ask you is the point of having it allowed in schools, if you are asking the schools to IGNORE THE SOCIAL CONTEXT AND INHERENT VALUE IT POSSESSES?  Further, as a “scholar” is your job not to educate?  Shouldn’t you then be speaking on behalf of the novel and its merits rather than truncating it?  I find you to be a cannibal of your craft.  I suspect that there might be a large sum of money involved in the number of copies this new “improved” edition of yours will sell.  Publish or perish comes at a price, Dr. Gribben, and I am astonished that your price has been met and has allowed you to overlook the broader implications of your actions.
You are a teacher.  A molder of minds.  This scares me.  I have no respect for those who take the easy way out.  I suspect that Mr Twain is doing somersaults in his grave right now.
My parents tried to hid the vodka from me when I was in high school, Dr. Gribben.  Damned if I didn’t find it anyway.
With Severe Vexation,
Jennifer N. Sciolino-Moore
Post Script:  I welcome any reply you find time to return.

17 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Dr. Alan Gribben

  1. Think of all the rewriting and editing needed to re-release books that won’t offend women. Think Taming of the Shrew and a gazillion others. Well said.

    Liked the vodka reference. As you pointed out earlier, hard to be allergic to that.

    • OOOOhhhh, Patti, this story just GOT to me. I couldn’t believe it. The solution is education, NOT revision. I’m so mad I could spit. Children learn to articulate and discuss by being exposed to things like this. By hiding it, we’re taking away an opportunity for broader discussion and valuable lesson.

      and yes, vodka seems to be a recurrent theme….. 😉

  2. Here, here. Well said. I could not agree with you more. My daughter is a junior in high school and reading said book right now. In fact, we had a conversation about the “N” word in the book just a few weeks ago when she commented about the use of the word being offensive.

    Don’t erase history. It’s important to have younger generations understand where we have been, so as not to repeat the past.

    Great post.

  3. Well said. I couldn’t have done better. Now let’s see if he has the stones to respond. Seems to me if he has big enough ones to do something like this he should be able to muster the gumption to answer you. We shall see.

  4. Love it. I read Huckleberry Finn multiple times as a child and it never damaged me or hurt me in anyway. It only served to create a vivid impression of a certain time period complete with scenery, well detailed people living and very nearly breathing in the pages. He described a culture, mind sets as well as a kickass adventure. I applaud you for writing this and actually sending it… thank you.

  5. AMEN.
    The need for political correctness is one of the tragedies of our time. It goes along with GeekinHard’s post about everybody getting a trophy.

    Sometimes, things AREN’T nice, and things don’t turn out well. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t cover it up or erase it. Learn from it. Explore. Discuss.

    We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by denying history, and the lessons to be learned from it.

    Well said, Jen.

  6. Please join me, fellow commenters in a resounding “fuck yeah!” to this post.

    I hate when authors (or indeed anyone) does this. You can’t re-write history to make it less offensive. It happened and attempting to blot it out with a giant bottle of white-out isn’t going to work. I’m kind of over this whole political correctness schtick that’s being crammed down our throats.

  7. This on top of Snooki’s book deal pretty much sent me under the covers for part of yesterday. (Well, metaphorically. I had things to do.) I talked to my daughter (a high school sophomore) about this this morning. “Why would he do that?” she said. “I mean, I don’t like that word, either, but he’s changing the book. And the word ‘slave’ seems meaner to me.”

    Stereo, I read the second part of your comment wrong, and started laughing because what I saw (not what you wrote) was, “…attempting to blot it out with a giant bottle of vodka….” instead of “white-out.”

  8. @Shannon and Elizabeth: You see?! Instead of allowing the institution to be totally in control of your children’s education, you’ve taken responsibility as parents and supplemented that education. This is EXACTLY my point. By DISCUSSING these issues with our kids, they learn how to dialogue about things that are obviously issues instead of NOT learning how to deal with societal pressures and wrongs. I applaud you both.
    @Jason: I doubt that I’ll received a reply. I’m certain that my letter was one of hundreds he received yesterday. I’m more interested to see if the University issues a statement.
    @Katie: HF was and still is one of my favorite novels. It’s a SATIRE. A point which is lost on our modern culture. Ignorance abounds. I liken this to book burning.
    @Brandee: Thank you. I was really upset. I think I might have been a little overboard in my criticism, even though I tried very hard to keep a civil and educated tone.
    @Amanda: I must give credit to my friend Nick for bringing this to my attention first. It was only after I’d read the NPR article he posted on FB that I began to see that it was blowing up all around us.
    @Jordan: What you see here is copied and pasted from the email that I sent. I have strong opinions and no problem attempting to tell someone what they think to their “face”. We’ll see if there is a reply. I shall assuredly post follow-up if there is.

  9. You were hardly overboard in your criticism. I would have ripped the idiot a new asshole myself. Just complete, total and utter insanity to me. It goes beyond money grubbing to me, it’s just so damned short-sighted.


    Well meaning idiots like this irritate me no end…

    • They irritate me too. What makes me madder is that in an interview a couple of days later, as a way to prove his own point and to mock those that disagreed with him, he said that NONE of the letters he received used the word “nigger” in its entirety. He contends that peoples’ use of the term “N-word” proves that it should be taken out.

      Obviously, I sent a letter to the author of the article and to Dr Gribben himself clearly pointing out that not EVERYONE used the term “n-word”.

      I got really worked up about this. I didn’t root for Auburn last night BECAUSE of this, which made the Old Man laugh at my reasoning.

  10. Damn revisionists… ever notice that when you visit “living history museums”, whether it’s Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, they will show you where the “servants” lived, worked, played etc. but they never use the word “slave”. Their embarrassment over slavery as a historical institution causes them to confuse the visitor by conflating actual paid servants, and slaves by using the same word to describe them. This gives the uneducated visitor the wrong impression about division of labor, social structure, and daily activity… which are the main teaching points of “living history” sites!? This serves no one.

    History is not to be covered up or apologized for, it’s to be learned from.

  11. I think people (parents, school board members, “concerned members of the community”) don’t trust teachers to shepherd their students through things like this. It’s an environment like this that leads me to not want to go back to teaching.

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