Vandalizing American Culture
What has become of us? More preciously, what has become of American historical perspective?
Shelby Foote, the noted Civil War historian in the Ken Burns famous documentary about the Civil War noted that an understanding about American today must be firmly bedded in an understanding of the Civil War. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBghmvRMluY at 0:24 to 1:13]]. He was right. How does any society understand itself today without firmly understanding its past whether the Civil War or any other American national tragedy?
Mark Twain's Huck Finn is probably the best novel ever written about the times prior to the Civil War, and better than any other novel of the 19th century in my opinion. Mr. Twain, [or Mr. Samuel Clemens for purists] painstakingly undertook to write dialogue in the dialect of the people of those times. If you read the dialogue out loud today, you hear what the people spoke like in those days so long ago. A picture forms in your mind of who they were, what they stood for and how they thought. Not so pleasant at times to be sure, but I believe Mr. Clemens meant his book to not be so pleasant at all times. He gave us an historical and cultural understanding whence we came; not all of it was good, though much of it was.
Today we deplore the "N-word," and so we should, because of this historical connection Huck Finn provides. I suppose I should also deplore the "I-word," but as I am a native American (to use the politically correct term), I personally don't care, though others truly do. However, that's not the point. One could never know nor understand why these words today are offensive without the historical context that Mr. Clemens so richly provides. To deprive anyone of this richness is the crime that desensitizes such an understanding rather than educates.
If Huck Finn must be "Corrected," don't. Put a well written article in the preface to the new edition explaining the cultural past and its effects today. But leave the historical significance alone. We must remember our past to know ourselves today.