There’s been an awful lot of hand-wringing about the “revised” version of Huckleberry Finn that purportedly seeks to address the outrage of concerned parents and return the book to the class room in the process. The Huffington Post notes the historical precedent:
In 1818 American Thomas Bowdler published a series of Shakespeare translations, which he edited heavily for content that he considered offensive. The resulting texts were tamed versions of the originals. Since then, the act of editing or removing offensive content has been deemed “bowdlerizing” and it has taken place many times.
Taking a walk down that particular slippery slope, I got to wondering what other classics might benefit from being bowdlerized. The Catcher in the Rye has been challenged for years by various school districts for a variety of reasons including “obscenity” and being “centered around negative activity.” As a self-proclaimed J.D. Salinger scholar, I call for making a few changes to the text that should get this important work off the sidelines and onto the desks of today’s youth, ready to impart its themes that have resonated with generations of teenagers.
The language of the novel may have worked at the time in which it was written, but it needs to be updated to consider the tender psyches of this generation that has come of age with limited exposure to obscenity and adult themes. Think of the children! Correcting the obscenity is easy. I recommend that the following words should be used on a rotating basis to replace Holden’s off-color language: dagnabit, daggum, fudge, gosh darn, shucks, and motherscratcher. The “negative activity” is a little more difficult to address, but I have a suggestion for this, too. I propose to do a simple word search for “phony/phonies” and replace with “swell guy” or “valued members of the community,” as needed. This should make the book significantly more upbeat and positive.
Of course, I’m happy to appear on your news talk television and radio shows to discuss my proposals.
Update: The best reponse that I’ve come across to the Finn flap is this piece by Tayari Jones.