Monday, January 10, 2011

An American Indian perspective on changing "Injun" to "Indian" in TOM SAWYER

On January 3rd, Publisher's Weekly carried an article called Upcoming NewSouth 'Huck Finn' Eliminates the 'N' Word. The article says that NewSouth Books is planning to release a version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a single volume titled Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  The article also says that the editor, Alan Gribben, replaced "nigger" with "slave" and "injun" with "Indian."

I've received several emails, asking what I think of the change.

I imagine that I probably read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was in school, but I don't remember much. Waller Hastings (a colleague on child_lit) pointed to the lack of critical discussion of Twain's portrayals of Indians. News about the NewSouth book, and Waller's comment, too, prompted me to read (reread?) Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

(Note: Page numbers below correspond to the eBook copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that I read in Google books.) 

Some facts:
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was first published in 1875. 
  • Two chapter titles include the phrase "Injun Joe."
  • The phrase "honest injun" appears two times. 
  • The phrase "Injun Joe" appears 33 times.
  • The word "Indian" appears once.
  • The word "Indians" appears twice.
  • The word "powwow" appears once.
  • The phrase "war-whoop" appears three times.

[Update, 1/12/2011: Unless otherwise noted, illustrations shown are from the 1980 printing by the University of California Press, edited by John C. Gerber, Paul Baender, and Terry Fitkins. It includes original illustrations by True E. Williams. Twain selected Williams to do the illustrations. Page 273 of the text quotes Twain as saying "Williams has made about 200 rattling pictures for it."

Summary and my comments.

Summary: The first Indian that Twain introduces readers to is an unnamed figure in Tom's imagination. This takes place in chapter eight on page 74. Tom has been rebuffed by the girl he's sweet on (Becky) and runs off to the woods. There, Tom thinks about running away to "join the Indians" where he'll "hunt buffaloes and go on the warpath in the mountain ranges and the trackless great plains of the Far West." When he returns, he'll be with "a great Indian chief, bristling with feathers, hideous with paint." He'll go into Sunday-school "with a blood-curdling war-whoop."


Deb's comments: Tom's image reflects America's love/hate attitude towards American Indians. On one hand, we're admired and on the other, we're feared. Or----I should say---IMAGES of us are admired and feared. Tom wants to join Indians who (he imagines) are living the good life out west, hunting buffaloes. He is drawn to the warlike image, too, as he images going on the warpath with the Indians of his imagination. Tom dwells more on the aggressive warlike image of Indians in feathers and paint who utter sounds that terrorize courageous Christians and settlers. 

Summary: In the next chapter, Twain introduces the character, "Injun Joe."  Not counting the chapter titles in the table of contents, "Injun Joe" first appears in the story on page 84.

The scene is a graveyard. Tom and Huck are in the graveyard and hear voices. At first they're afraid, thinking the voices belong to devils but they see that the voices belong to three men, Dr. Robinson, Muff Potter, and, "Injun Joe." The doctor has hired Potter and "Injun Joe" to dig up a body. (We aren't told why the doctor needed this body, but the Report of the geological survey of the State of Missouri says that that near Hannibal is a cave where a "Dr. McDowell deposited a relative's corpse to see if it would petrify" (p. 36). The book was published by Bureau of Geology and Mines in 1874.)

Once the body is above ground and wrapped in a blanket, Potter and "Injun Joe" ask for more money. The doctor says he's already paid them, but Potter and "Injun Joe" want more. "Injun Joe" approaches the doctor, saying:
"Five years ago you drove me away from your father's kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something to eat, and you said I warn't there for any good; and when I swore I'd get even with you if it took a hundred years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did you think I'd forget? The Injun blood ain't in me for nothing. And now I've got  you, and you got to settle, you know!" (p. 85)
A fight ensues, during which "Injun Joe," with Potter's knife in hand, goes
"...creeping, catlike and stooping, round and round about the combatants, seeking an opportunity."(p. 86)
The doctor hits Potter, knocking him out and to the ground. Then,
"...the half-breed saw his chance and drove the knife to the hilt in the young man's breast." (p. 86)
The doctor dies and the "half-breed" mutters
"That score is settled--damn you." (p. 86)
"Injun Joe" robs the body and then puts the knife into Potter's hand. When Potter regains consciousness, "Injun Joe" asks Potter why he killed the doctor. Potter can't recall doing it, so Joe (throughout this conversation, Potter calls him Joe, not "Injun Joe"). Joe describes how Potter killed the doctor. Potter begs "Joe" not to tell anyone, and he agrees to keep quiet. The two part ways. The text says that the "half-breed" watched Potter leave. His knife was left behind.


Deb's comments: As developed by Twain, "Injun Joe" is a vengeful, lying murderer who moves like a cat. In framing "Injun Joe" as animal-like, Twain is not alone. Authors then and now do it. A recent example is seen in James Crowley's Blackfeet characters who gnaw on bones (see section on chapter six). 

And, he's a half-breed whose Indian blood/identity is the reason he's a vengeful, lying murderer. 

He uses "Injun" (not "Indian") to describe himself. What, if any, backstory did Twain work up on him? Who did Twain imagine his parents to be? (In Why Mark Twain Murdered Injun Joe Carter Revard says "halfbreeds" were children of white fathers and Indian women, many of whom were prostitutes.) 

Did "Injun Joe" grow up in Hannibal? We know that he was poor and hungry and that five years prior to the murder, he had been poor and hungry enough to ask for a handout. According to Twain's preface, the book is set 30 or 40 years prior to its publication in 1876. A critical companion on SAWYER indicates that there was an Osage man named Indian Joe living in Hannibal. Twain used his name. 

Would it make a difference in how readers view "Injun Joe" if they read "Indian Joe" instead? I think not! He'd still be a vengeful, lying, half-breed murderer. In fact, replacing the derogatory "Injun" to the too-broad-but-not-derogatory "Indian" actually works to make the character even less sympathetic. Readers may not know what an "Injun" is, but they definitely know what an "Indian" is! Removing the slur without changing the character doesn't alleviate anything derogatory... It absolutely pins wicked evil behavior on Indians.

Summary: From their spot in the graveyard, Tom and Huck witnessed the murder. In chapter ten, they run off and wonder what to do.  They decide to stay quiet because
"That Injun devil wouldn't make any more of drownding us than a couple of cats, if we was to squeak 'bout this and they didn't hang him." (p. 91)
They go through an elaborate ritual, burying their written oath to remain quiet.

Deb's comments: Twain tacks on "devil" to "Injun Joe's" character. Other classic works of literature frame Indians as devils or engaged in "devilment" (see page 284 of Wilder's LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE where the text reads "Mr. Scott said he didn't know why so many of those savages were coming together, if they didn't mean devilment." That text is followed by Mr. Scott saying "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Death will be precisely how Twain deals with his Indian character.)

Summary: The next day (in chapter 11), the body and Potter's knife are found. "Injun Joe" tells the townspeople that he saw Potter kill the doctor. Tom and Huck watch in disbelief as "the stony-hearted liar" (p. 100) talks.  The two boys expect God to strike the liar with lightning but nothing happens,
"for plainly this miscreant had sold himself to Satan and it would be fatal to meddle with the property of such a power as that."  (p. 100)

"Injun Joe" repeats his lie at an inquest. Again, no lightning strikes him down, and so, Tom and Huck's fear that "Injun Joe" sold himself to the devil is confirmed.  They're fascinated with him and decide to watch him, night and day, in the hopes of actually seeing him with the devil. The townspeople are angry at "Injun Joe" for participating in the grave-digging and body-snatching, but are afraid of him and leave him be.    



Deb's comments: Earlier he was called a devil; now he's sold himself to the Satan, and not even God is willing to use his power against Satan... 



Summary: Worried over what he's seen, Tom feels low and dreary. In chapter 12, his aunt tries various remedies and then starts giving him "Pain-killer." Bored, Tom gives some to the cat, Peter, by prying the cats mouth open and pouring Pain-killer in it:
Peter sprang a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a war-whoop and set off round an round the room, banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots, and making general havoc. (p. 107)

Deb's comment: Here, Twain is using the running-around-like-a-wild-Indian imagery, and, he's added the war-whooping sound to make sure the reader sees what he is imagining. 

Summary: Tom is better and heads on to school, wondering where Becky might be. Not seeing her, he goes inside the school house and then sees her pass by the gate:
...Tom's heart gave a great bound. The next instant he was out, and "going on" like an Indian; yelling, laughing, chasing boys, jumping over the fence at risk of life and limb, throwing hand-springs, standing on his head--doing all the heroic things he could conceive of, and keeping a furtive eye out, all the while, to see if Becky Thatcher was noticing. (p.109)

She doesn't notice, so...
He carried his exploits to her immediate vicinity; came war-whooping around, snatched a boy's cap, hurled it to the roof of the school-house... (p. 110)

Becky rebuffs him, he's embarrassed, and sneaks off, crestfallen.

The next few chapters are about Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper, who've run off to an island where they play pirates. They get sick smoking cigarettes. When the boys don't return home, the townspeople think they drowned. At one point when Huck and Joe fall asleep, Tom takes off, headed home. Tom sneaks into his aunt's house and hears her, his brother, and Joe's mother lament the loss of the boys. He also hears when their funeral will be held. After they go to bed, Tom takes off again and returns to their camp on the island.

The boys swim and play, but start to feel lonely for home. When Huck and Joe decide to leave. Tom convinces them to stay by planning their return during the funeral (readers don't know the plan till it happens). That night a storm comes and soaks their camp. The next morning, the boys try to leave again, and Tom reminds them of the plan. They stay and decide to quit being pirates and "be Indians for a change" (p. 147):

...it was not long before they were stripped, and striped from head to toe with black mud, like so many zebras--all of them chiefs, of course--and then they went tearing through the woods to attack an English settlement.


By and by they separated into three hostile tribes, and darted upon each other from ambush with dreadful war-whoops, and killed and scalped each other by thousands. It was a gory day. Consequently it was an extremely satisfactory one.


They assembled in camp toward supper-time, hungry and happy; but now a difficulty arose--hostile Indians could not break the bread of hospitality together without first making peace, and this was a simple impossibility without smoking a pipe of peace. There was no other process that ever they had heard of. Two of the savages almost wished they had remained pirates. However, there was no other way; so with much show of cheerfulness as they could muster they called for the pipe and took their whiff as it passed, in due form.


And behold, they were glad they had gone into savagery, for they had gained something; they found that they could now smoke a little without having to go and hunt for a lost knife; they did not get sick enough to be seriously uncomfortable. They were not likely to fool away this high promise for lack of effort. No, they practiced cautiously, after supper, with right fair success, and so they spent a jubilant evening. They were prouder and happier in their new acquirement than they would have been in the scalping and skinning of the Six Nations. We will leave them to smoke and chatter and brag, since we have no further use for them at present. (pp. 147-148)

Deb's comments: They play Indian much as Tom imagined it earlier in the book. Mud serves as paint. They attack, ambush, kill, and scalp. Because they'd gotten sick smoking cigarettes, they're reluctant to smoke tobacco again. But, they're Indians, and they've got to smoke the peace pipe. They smoke just a little. It doesn't make them sick, and, that's what makes them jubilant---more proud and happy, even, than if they had been scalping and skinning Indians of the Six Nations. 

Skinning Indians? Hmmm... What does Twain mean by that? Skinning Indians meant taking advantage of them. Is that what Twain meant? Or did he mean literally skinning Indians? 

And what is Twain doing with the whole smoking theme? Did he own stock in tobacco?! Did he want boys to know that they should not be afraid to smoke if, on their first try, it made them sick?

Summary: The boys return home in the midst of the funeral service. They are greeted with joy. Summer comes and school is out. Potter's trial is about to take place. Tom talks with Huck, asking him if there is anyone who could force him to talk. Huck says:
"Get me to tell? Why, if I wanted that half-breed devil to drownd me they could get me to tell. They ain't no different way." (p. 190)

Deb's comment: Clearly, Huck is afraid "Injun Joe" will kill him. 


Summary: The two boys swear again to each other to keep quiet, but they feel bad for Potter, knowing he is innocent and that the lie told by "Injun Joe" is the only evidence against him. Everyone gathers at the courthouse. "Injun Joe" is there, too. To almost everyone's surprise (readers learn later that, feeling guilty, Tom met with Potter's lawyer the night before), Tom is called to the stand and is asked where he was that night. Tom glances at "Injun Joe" and after a few minutes, says that he was in the graveyard and starts testifying. When he gets to the part about "Injun Joe" jumping up with the knife,
Crash! Quick as lightening the half-breed sprang for a window, tore his way through all opposers, and was gone! (p. 197)

Tom is a hero to the townspeople. Both Tom and Huck are afraid (Tom has bad dreams), now that "Injun Joe" is on the loose. Huck is glad he didn't have to testify. He's afraid, though, that it'll come out that he, too, was a witness to the murder.

In chapter 25, Tom and Huck embark on another adventure: hunting for buried treasure. They dig in several places. Finding nothing, they head to Cardiff Hill, the location of a haunted house. They go inside to look around. While inside they hear voices of men approaching the house. One of them is "Injun Joe." He and the other man talk about their "dangerous" plans. They've got silver coins with them that they decide to bury before they leave, returning for it later.  "Injun Joe" remembers seeing a pick (it is Tom's pick) and uses it to dig. He notices fresh dirt on it. As he's digging, he finds a box of gold coins.

Tom and Huck happily consider all the money they'll have once the two men leave the house. But, the two men decide not to leave the silver or gold there, but to hide it "under the cross" in "Injun Joe's" "Number Two" den.

"Injun Joe's" companion tells him they have enough money and don't need to do that other job, but with "a wicked light" in his eyes, "Injun Joe" says its not about robbery, it's about revenge.  The men leave, and the boys leave, too.

The next day Tom and Huck plan to find Number Two den. In chapter 29, Huck follows two men who have the box of gold. They go to Widow Douglas's house. Listening to them talk, Huck learns that her husband was a justice of the peace who had judged "Injun Joe" to be a vagrant and
...had me horsewhipped! ---horsewhipped in front of the jail, like a nigger! ---with all the town looking on! HORSEWHIPPED! --do you understand? He took advantage of me and died. But I'll take it out on her." (p. 236)

His companion tells him not to kill her. "Injun Joe" replies:
"Kill? Who said anything about killing? I would kill him if he was here; but not her. When you want to get revenge on a woman you don't kill her--both! you go for her looks. You slit her nostrils--you notch her ears like a sow!"


"By God, that's--"

"Keep your opinion to yourself! It will be safest for you. I'll tie her to the bed. If she bleeds to death, is that my fault? I'll not cry, if she does. My friend, you'll help in this thing--for my sake--that's why you're here--I mightn't be able alone. If you flinch, I'll kill you. Do you understand that? And if I have to kill you, I'll kill her--and then I reckon nobody'll ever know much about who done this business." (pp. 236-237)

Deb's comment:  At the widow's house, readers learn that "Injun Joe" is not just a thieving, lying murderer. He's also racist and barbaric. Racist because he was humiliated at being treated "like a nigger" in front of everyone, and barbaric because he plans to torture and horribly mutilate the widow. 

 At this point in the book, Twain makes "Injun Joe" even more despicable. Now he's not only a liar, a thief, and a murder. He's racist and barbaric, too. 



Summary: Huck races for help, stopping at the Welshman's house to tell him that two men are planning to hurt the widow. Huck goes with the Welshman and his sons, who take their guns to rescue the widow. When he hears their guns fire, Huck runs home. The next morning (chapter 30), Huck goes to the Welshman's house and learns that they did not catch the men. The Welshman questions Huck, trying to get info from him about the two men. Huck, intent on keeping his own identity as a witness to the murder a secret, stumbles over his words trying to describe the two men. But the Welshman is on to him, presses him, and gets Huck to blurt out that it was "Injun Joe." The Welshman says:
"It's all plain enough, now. When you talked about notching ears and slitting noses I judged that that was your own embellishment, because white men don't take that sort of revenge. But an Injun! That's a different matter altogether." (p. 243)

Deb's comment: Again---if we replace "Injun" with "Indian," does it make a difference in how readers view that character? I think not! 


Summary: There is a plan to find the two men, but then everyone realizes Becky and Tom are missing. There is fear they're lost in a cave, and the townspeople spend three days searching for them.

In chapter 31, Tom and Becky are in the cave, lost. They discover that "Injun Joe" is also in the cave. In the next chapter, Tom and Becky are rescued and the cave entrance is sealed. Days pass. When Tom learns that the entrance to the cave is sealed off, he tells the judge that "Injun Joe" is in the cave. In chapter 33, the judge, Tom, and townspeople return to the cave and open the door.
Injun Joe lay stretched upon the ground, dead, with his face close to the crack of the door, as if his longing eyes had been fixed, to the latest moment, upon the light and the cheer of the free world outside. Tom was touched, for he knew by his own experience how this wretch had suffered. His pity was moved, but nevertheless he felt an abounding sense of relief and security, now, which revealed to him in a degree which he had not fully appreciated before how vast a weight of dread had been lying upon him since the day he lifted his voice against this bloody-minded outcast.



Injun Joe's bowie-knife lay close by, its blade broken in two. The great foundation-beam of the door had been chipped and hacked through, with tedious labor; useless labor, too, it was, for the native rock formed a sill outside it, and upon that stubborn material the knife had wrought no effect. (p. 267)

"Injun Joe" died a slow death. Knowing that it was useless to hack at the door with his knife, he ate candle stubs and bats. He had made a crude cup to collect water from drops that fell from a stalactite.


Deb's comments: Having just been lost in the cave, Tom feels some empathy for "Injun Joe" but is glad he's dead and safe from the "bloody-minded outcast." Twain gives readers a lot of details to help readers see the suffering he endured in his last days.  


Summary: "Injun Joe" was buried near the mouth of the cave.

[P]eople flocked there in boats and wagons from the towns and from all the farms and hamlets for seven miles around; they brought their children, and all sorts of provisions,  and confessed that they had had almost as satisfactory a time at the funeral as they could have had at the hanging. (p. 269)

Deb's comments: What is that flaw in humanity, that wants to see grisly events like hangings? Why is witnessing such things "satisfying"?! People attended "Injun Joe's" funeral, not to mourn him, but to celebrate his death. 


Summary: Between finding the body and his funeral, some "sappy women" (p. 269) felt sympathy for "Injun Joe" and wanted the Governor to pardon him:
This funeral stopped the further growth of one thing---the petition to the Governor for Injun Joe's pardon. The petition had been largely signed; many tearful and eloquent meetings had been held, and a committee of sappy women appointed to go in deep mourning and wail around the Governor, and implore him to be a merciful ass and trample his duty under foot. Injun Joe was believed to have killed five citizens of the village, but what of that? If he had been Satan himself there would have been plenty of weaklings ready to scribble their names to a pardon petition, and drip a tear on it from their permanently impaired and leaky waterworks. (p. 269)

Deb's comments: Why did Twain add that bit about the pardon? Did he imagine some of his readers might have sympathy for "Injun Joe"? Framing the signers of the petition as "sappy" and "weaklings" he may be asking his reader who they wish to be. Sappy weaklings? Not likely!

 

Summary: The day after the funeral, Tom and Huck go back to the cave and find the gold and silver. Though they're rich, they promise each other to follow through on their plans to become robbers.

Debbie's thoughts about "honest injun"...
The first use of "injun" in the story occurs on page 17, and it isn't in reference to a specific character.  By that point, we've already met Tom and Jim.  Tom's aunt Polly has punished him, setting him to whitewash a fence. As he works, he realizes a boy named Ben is nearby. He doesn't want Ben to tease him, so, Tom steps back, admires his work, adds another brush stroke, studies it, adds another, and so on, as though its art, not work. Ben asks if he can try it, but Tom says no, that only one boy in a thousand or two could do it the way it needs to be done. Ben asks again if he can do it, and Tom replies:
"Ben, I'd like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly---well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn't let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn't let Sid. Now don't you see how I'm fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it---"
The phrase "honest injun" came up about a year ago in U.S. politics when chair of the GOP used it. I did a bit of research on it then, and thought that Twain was the first to use to in print. Today, I found an older use of it...  It appeared in 1830 1880 in a collection of items called Very Funny, Not too Funny; Just Funny Enough. The correct year for Very Funny is 1880, not 1830. My colleagues in children's literature may be interested to know that Very Funny was also in an 1880 volume of St. Nicholas, the monthly magazine for children. Back to Tom Sawyer.... the phrase appears again on page 271.

It is a slur but I'm not sure how many people know it is derogatory. A lot of people don't know that "redskins" or "squaw" are derogatory. As I said earlier, I'm not sure what image comes to mind when a child hears the word "injun".  I'm certain that a specific (stereotypical, monolithic) image comes to a child's mind when he or she hears the word "Indian." 


My conclusions about the revised edition of Tom Sawyer?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not helped by changing "Injun" to "Indian."  Alan Gribben (the editor of the revised volume) says in the Introduction to the volume that:
The editor’s decision for this edition of Tom Sawyer has been to render the sixty-seven repetitions of the outcast’s name as “Indian Joe” to assist in retiring another antiquated and insulting word (even though the very name “Indian” itself commemorates a misnomer dating back to Columbus). But the substitution of a merely informative racial sobriquet salvages Twain’s ethnic innuendoes regarding the motivation for Indian Joe’s animosity toward the town’s residents. A total of seventeen miscellaneous usages of the I-word have similarly been altered in both novels. For the same reasons the eight references in Tom Sawyer to “half-breed” have been converted to “half-blood,” which is less disrespectful and has even taken on a degree of panache since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005).


I've never used "I-word" for "Injun" and I don't know of any Native scholars who've used it either. If you've seen it used, please let me know (send email or submit a comment below).

Earlier in the introduction Gribben says that Twain didn't have to concern himself with African American or Native American readers because they were occupied with recovering from degradation and trying to survive and hence, too busy "to bother about objectionable vocabulary choices in two popular books." Perhaps, but I'd like to see evidence of that claim. In saying that, I think Gribben inadvertently says that we (remember, I'm a tribally enrolled American Indian) couldn't do both---survive and engage in literary study and political activism. I know that's not true. We've been doing both for literally hundreds of years. In 1829, for example, William Apess, a Pequot man, wrote A Son of the Forest in which he said:
[T]he great fear I entertained of my brethren was occasioned by the many stories I had heard of their cruelty toward the whites—how they were in the habit of killing and scalping men, women, and children. But the whites did not tell me that they were in a great majority of instances the aggressors—that they had imbrued their hands in the lifeblood of my brethren, driven them from their once peaceful and happy homes—that they introduced among them the fatal and exterminating diseases of civilized life. 
Gribben thinks changing "Injun" to "Indian" will make the book more likely to be used in schools. What schools, I wonder, does he mean? Does he think the change makes it more likely to be used in tribally-run schools? Or does he mean schools that don't have Native children in them?

His remarks (quoted above) indicate that he thinks that there's enough in the book for readers to understand the motivations for Joe's animosity. What do you think? Do you know of a teacher who is helping children see and understand the anti-Indian racism in the book?

I suppose there may be teachers who can do that, but my experience with other classics (like Little House on the Prairie) tells me otherwise.  Teachers are over-worked, underpaid, and they are not respected for the tremendous job they do, so please know that I'm not dumping on them.

Instead, I am pointing to an overall lack of critical engagement with the ways that American Indians are portrayed in books and movies and textbooks. That lack of engagement spans most universities, from their colleges of Education to their English departments, to their schools of Medicine.

I wouldn't use the old or new versions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in any elementary classroom. I might use it in a high school course in a unit that studies racism in literature...

What would you do? Do you know of teachers who teach the book? How do they address "injun" or "Indian"? Do you think they point out anything at all to counter the image generated by Twain?

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Note, 1:57 PM CST, Jan 10, 2012

This is a public thank-you to colleagues on child_lit who've been discussing SAWYER and FINN over the last week. I highly recommend the child_lit listserv to anyone interested in children's books. Subscribe to child_lit today.

I shared the link to this post on child_lit. Waller noted something I didn't catch. I pointed out that "Injun Joe" is described as cat-like and I pointed out that when Tom gives the cat some of the pain-killer, the cat races about wildly and does a war-whoop. I didn't connect the two incidents. Usually, the animal characteristics used to describe Indians are wolves. I wonder why Twain used cats? On another note, there's an animated Tom Sawyer in which "Injun Joe" is a bear.

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Update, 2:45 PM CST, March 16, 2011

This thank you is long overdue. On Jan 10, 2011, child_lit colleague Helen Schinske wrote that the correct date for Very Funny, Not Too Funny is 1880, not 1830. Thanks, Helen! I made the changes above and wanted to thank Helen for her research and expertise.

7 comments:

kadiera said...

Interesting analysis.

I read the book once in high school, where the teacher was very concerned with us understanding the history of the "N-word" that was also changed in this new edition.

I also read the book in a college literature course, where the professor was more concerned with the flow of the story and "why is this stupid book a classic, anyway" than any actual analysis of the language used.

Jude said...

When my dad was in high school, his Latin teacher, who was from Germany, asked the students who among them was of mixed race. My dad proudly raised his hand (he was 1/4 Cherokee), as did about a third of the class and she said, "That's what's wrong with you Americans--you're all mutts!"

My great-grandmother had her children taken from her because what rights did an Indian woman have in 1892? My dad's first cousin grew up in Phoenix, and denied his heritage; my dad grew up in Colorado and was proud of his heritage. Nevertheless, when we watched westerns on TV, he always said, "Another injun bit the dust!" and I'd say "Joe, why do you say that?!?" He'd say it because he was a product of his times--a darker-than-average man who was proud of his heritage, had suffered from discrimination and detested racism, but was raised in a near "white" town. We might say that my dad should have had been more enlightened than he was, but he was who he was. For example, when we discovered that we had Mexican cousins, he'd ask them goofy questions along the lines of "You have toilets in Mexico? You eat Corn Flakes in Mexico?"--questions similar to those I received as a seasonal park ranger at Mesa Verde which implied that the Ancestral Puebloans weren't people.

Just as my dad was a product of his times, that's the way I think we should read Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn--as products of their time, with language of the time. I read them as a kid and read them a couple of times as an adult--most recently when I was hired as a substitute to teach 3 chapters of Huck Finn. I read those chapters and was carried along by the story and the writing and Twain's amazing use of dialect, and thus I was able to discuss those 3 chapters intelligently with an advanced group of high school students. I distinctly remember discussing the use of racial terms and nicknames. The students found the books excessively dull, just as a later group I taught found Pride & Prejudice dull, but for me, the experience was powerful. All three of those books take me to another time and place where the conventions expressed through language were much different than they are now. They make me glad that I live now.

Doret said...

Edi, just did a post on the first time she read Huck Finn in High School. I think you'll like it

http://campbele.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/tweekin-male-monday/

Changing the words doesn't change the content. How a character being refered to has a slave, suppose to be a positive change?

I think this simply a way to get people talking and to sell more copies of this particular edition

Donna L. Long said...

I work as a librarian in a private high school. Huck Finn is currently taught in the original text. The text is used as a starting point to discuss race, fear, discrimination, freedom, etc.

The words "Injun" and "N---" sting. And they should sting people with a conscience. But, that stinging allows us to really ponder what we think and how we treat others.

Twain's Puddin' Head Wilson is also a good work about racism.

Taking out the stinging words, sugar-coats and white-washes some of the nasty bits of American history. It pretends those words were not used and some ancestors were better human beings than they really were.

Who exactly is the sanitized edition for? Obviously, not for American Indians and African-Americans.

Twain (although not perfect) was a champion of anti-discrimination and freedom. For who has the powerful voice of such a force been altered?

Angela Craft said...

I read Huck Finn in high school and remember at the beginning of the unit having a lot of conversations about the infamous N-word, but nothing about injun. Maybe it was there and I've just forgotten it, but really I think I assumed the use of injun was another reflection of the dialect Twain used - there are all sorts of corrupted words in the text so without any background on Native American slurs, it just blended in.

Thanks for pointing out this post in the Twitter kidlitchat tonight!

Deborah Kelly said...

I never read Twain's books, allowed them in my home or let my child read them. Twain was quite clear in his disdain for First Nations people in his published remarks concerning the Goshute people. There is too much great literature for children to waste time on the "classics."

Jean Mendoza said...

The illustrations are such an interesting addition to your analysis. Glad you included them.

I believe that it was in third grade that our teacher read Tom Sawyer aloud to the class. My listening experience was affected by the fact that my mother had impressed on me and my brothers that people who said "Injun" instead of "Indian" were either ignorant, or lazy speakers. Which influenced my perception of most of the characters in the book. I', with you on the usefulness of changing "Injun" to "Indian"-- it does not help, and creates its own set of problems ....