Censorship – [The] suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.1
The current controversy surrounding New South Book’s censorship of a Mark Twain classic is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another classic which describes an American society in which exercising intellectual freedom has become a social if not, criminal offense. The title of the book refers to the temperature at which a book’s pages will combust and the burning of ‘illegal texts’ is central to the story’s theme. Ironically, Bradbury’s classic decrying the suppression of intellectual freedom was itself the victim of censorship when Ballantine Books published its own watered-down version, omitting words and phrases it deemed objectionable. Presumably due to pressure from the author, the original wording has since been restored and subsequent editions have reflected the author’s true intent.
Still, it would seem Mr. Bradbury’s premise was not far off the mark. How is it that we, a nation built on the principals of individual and intellectual freedom, regard this overt act of censorship with such apathy? Are we, as Bradbury implies, so caught up in the mundanity of reality TV and mindless programming that we no longer recognize the value of literary classics or the destructive powers of censorship? Wake up America!
Let’s take a moment to analyze the true scope of this current controversy. First of all, it is important to understand that regardless of New South’s intent (which I suspect is purely self-interest), censorship of Twain’s work will effectively alter the perceptions of an entire generation with regard to the cultural history of America and soften the impact of a work which helped raise the consciousness of an entire nation. Mark Twain was not writing from a twenty-first century perspective, he was writing from the perspective of a boy growing up in nineteenth century America, a place and time when the word ‘nigger’ was in common use. How can one apply twenty-first century sensibilities to a work developed 125 years ago without altering the overall authenticity of the work and thereby, its historical accuracy and cultural significance?
Second, bear in mind that, while a precedent may have already been set with regard to censorship of classic literature, failing to rally against such acts further empowers the censor. If we fail to label acts of censorship as unjust and culturally irresponsible, we are empowering others to determine what we can and can not read, learn, and experience. This is an extremely dangerous societal precedent which can have devastating political, cultural, and social affect. Echoes of George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four.
Third, consider why New South Books is making these changes. Do you really believe they are concerned about the sensibilities of our youth? No. New South Books is censoring one of the most renowned classics of American fiction in an effort to sell thousands of copies to schools throughout the land. Are the students complaining that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not part of the curriculum? Are their parents demanding that a revised version be published for circulation in the schools? Is anybody, aside from New South Books, promoting the idea of censoring this book? Hmmm?
It is not enough to take offense at this bastardization of literature, we as Americans need to refute it. Parents must stand up and fight for their children’s right to experience classic literature in its classic form. Those parents concerned about the content of the book should deny their children access, and at the same time decry its censorship. When your child is old enough to understand, they will applaud your efforts and respect your ideals. They will learn by your example how to safegaurd their freedoms and stand-up for their rights.
“Censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but unlike charity, it should end there.” – Clare Booth Luce/ Congresswoman and American playwright.2
If we fail to protect the integrity of these works we do a great disservice, not only to the literary genius’ who produce them, but to the future generations who – by decree of a for-profit media company – are denied the right to read them in their intended voice. Don’t let acts of cultural terrorism go unchallenged. Tell your school board that you do not support the purchase of these texts. Send letters and e-mails to New South Books, or post to their Facebook page expressing your concern about their actions. And finally, if you have never done so, read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so you understand what’s at stake.