Uproar about a publisher's plan to release versions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer that don't include the words "Nigger" and "Injun".
I must confess that this passage baffles me.
Neither the expletives nor things like the graphic details of the “horses head” scene or the brief sex scene between Michael Corleone and his first wife Appolonia are essential elements of the story that Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola are trying to tell in The Godfather. These items can be removed or modified for airing on broadcast television without taking away from the central themes of the story. This is not the case with either Sawyer or Finn, both books are set in a time period when racial tensions were a central part of life and are based, to a large degree, on the racially prejudices that Twain himself encountered as a child growing up in Missouri. This is especially true of Huckleberry Finn where, despite the fact that “the n-word” appears 219 times, it’s fairly obvious that Twain is condemning racial prejudice and that one of the central themes of the book is the process by which Huck discovers that the things he’d been taught by society by blacks were wrong, and that his companion him was, in fact, an heroic figure.
On the contrary, the "horse's head" scene is absolutely essential to a proper viewing of The Godfather, as it graphically conveys to the audience, early on and following a jovial family wedding, that Don Corleone's enviable family life, and Family, are built on a willingness and capacity to kill and to maim, and not just to kill and maim fellow criminals, but the innocent as well.
Khartoum (the horse) is a stand-in for every innocent person ever harmed by the Family. I cannot think of a more succinct way to convey that in one shot than to show the bloody head of a horse, the innocent, at the feet of Jack Woltz, the guilty. The horse's head teaches us at the beginning of the film that Don Corleone has arrogated the power of God. He is willing to punish those who are without sin, as in Noah's flood where all of the children in the world were drowned, in order to reach those who deserve his vengeance.
The horse's head is art, essential to one of the greatest films ever made.
And yet, like Doug Mataconis, I still wouldn't show it on primetime network televison.
So some parents want their precocious children, the readers, to read one of the great American novels, and at an early age, but they don't want their kids exposed to the word "nigger," as Doug points out, two hundred nineteen times.
It is fairly obvious, at the close of Huckleberry Finn, that Mark Twain is against racial prejudice. I still wouldn't want to have the talk with my sister if I were to give my niece a copy of Huck Finn, in its original form, about why my niece had begun shouting the N-word at strangers. And, like Doug, I'm white.
Which brings us round to Injun Joe. Injun Joe is a murderer and a thief. Is there some hidden message of racial brotherhood in the story of Injun Joe? Or is Doug saying, implicitly, that the Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not great art, so it's ok to bowdlerize it.
Fortunately I don't have to care. If I want to give my niece the story of Injun Joe in all his child-terrorizing, widow-murdering, gold-thieving glory, I can, subject to her mom's approval. And other uncles and parents can give their kids the version that doesn't include a word that they'd rather not explain at the age of eight.
It isn't as though the original versions will be pulled from the market.
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