What happens if a novel that is often named among the greatest works in history uses a word or phrase that offends someone? “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain is a classic example. For white people, the novel is where modern American literature began and Mark Twain is considered a father of American literature. However, the very same work leaves black people, especially young black people, wounded because of one word that is repeated throughout the book more than 200 times.
The word in question is “nigger,” a derogatory term for black people. Unfortunately, it was transliterated in Korean as well and has been widely used because of racism. The word, nigger, sumps up the centuries-long pain and discrimination that black people had to experience. As African American poet Langston Hughes once remarked, the “word nigger to colored people is like a red rag to a bull.” They are no longer slaves, but this cannot erase the past. Their ancestors were captured and brought to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean by white people who then enslaved and treated them like animals. The word, nigger, is an instant reminder for them of the painful past and the ongoing racism. This is the problem with “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which is praised as “almost perfect.” The fact that this novel exposed the reality of slavery though indirectly cannot justify using the word more than 200 times, 213 times to be specific.
Toni Morrison, the first African American novelist who won the Nobel Prize, confessed that she felt silent rage after reading Mark Twain’s book. However, it is still being read at some American middle and high schools for it is a classic. Left untreated, wounds from history get infected instead of healing on their own, which feels cruel. No matter how great it is, a novel that hurts people will not be able to maintain its status of a literary classic since its true value should lie in its power to heal, not wound.