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Twain Synthesis

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

So…I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but some guy decided to censor Twain.  Yep, Twain, the man who said, “Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it,” is actually being posthumously bowdlerized (that copyright thing is a real stinker).

I know that the majority would side with Twain on this one, but there is a minority of educators that do find viable cause for a rewrite.  We can simply choose NOT to buy or teach this “edited” version of the book.  But we can also choose to keep this debate alive, to make it a part of our yearly curriculum, so that we NEVER forget WHY we’re not purchasing this pseudo-version of the book.  As I tell my students, “You are a part of history.  Do not forget this day, because it will happen again and you need to be informed in order to make the right choice.”  But what about the minority? How do we keep this debate open to everyone?  Hopefully the attached synthesis cluster and prompt will allow bipartisan debate and analysis to keep this topic alive for years to come—or at least until it happens again.

And as far as Alan Gribben is concerned, through the many articles, interviews, blogs and satires out there, he’s definitely feeling the wrath of his choice—which is, quite possibly, the wrath of Twain himself.

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AP® English Language and Composition-Synthesis Question

(Suggested writing time—40 minutes.)

Directions: The following prompt is based on the accompanying six sources.

This question requires you to synthesize a variety of sources into a coherent, well-written essay.  When you synthesize sources, you refer to them to develop your position and cite them accurately.  Your argument should be central; the sources should support your argument.  Avoid merely summarizing the sources.

Remember to attribute both direct and indirect references.


Mark Twain once said: "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." Yet, since the day it was first published in 1883, his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been criticized, banned, and even censored. In the beginning, folks thought it too provocative and the language too coarse. Or was it that Twain’s satire of the ugly truth was too much for society to handle? Over one hundred years later, the controversy continues to build and has seemingly reached a plateau with a new version that replaces the “N-word” with “slave.”  Many scholars consider this new version to be absolute censorship, while others appreciate its thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

Those against this revamped version wonder what’s next to be censored, while those for the new edition think that it will make the novel more accessible.


Read the following sources (including the introductory information) carefully.  Then, in an essay that synthesizes at least three of the sources for support, defend, challenge, or qualify the notion that this new edited version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is censorship. In your response, discuss what impact these changes to could have on society as a whole.

You may refer to the sources by their titles (Source A, Source B, etc.) or by the descriptions in parentheses.

Source A (Murphy)

Source B (Kakutani)

Source C (Rawls)

Source D (Conan)

Source E (Twain)

Source F (Mathews)

Source G (Duban)

Source H (Reader Comments)

Source I (Whelan)

Source J (Beeler)

Source K (Keefe)

Source A

Murphy, Kim.  “Teacher thinks Obama is proof that 'Huckleberry Finn' needs to leave the classroom”  ...

(First seven paragraphs)

Source B

Kakutani, Michiko.  “Light Out, Huck, They Still Want to Sivilize You.” N.Y. Times 6  Jan. 2011.

(First four paragraphs)

Source C

Rawls, Phillip. “Huck Finn: Controversy Over Removing the ‘N word’ from Mark Twain Novel.” The Chris...

(Entire article)

Source D

Conan, Neal. Interview with Alan Gribben. Talk of the Nation. Natl. Public Radio. WGCU, Ft. Myers, 5...

(Introduction and first three questions)

Source E

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885.

In a key passage from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pap Finn, drunk and covered with mud, delivers this rant:

There was a free nigger there from Ohio — a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too….They said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could VOTE when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ’lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin….And to see the cool way of that nigger — why, he wouldn’t a give me the road if I hadn’t shoved him out o’ the way. I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold? — that’s what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why, they said he couldn’t be sold till he’d been in the State six months.

Source F

Matthews, David.  “Dumbing and Numbing Down Jim.” NY Times 6 Jan. 2011.

(Last four paragraphs)

Source G

Duban, James.  “We Want Readers.” NY Times. 6 Jan. 2011.

(Entire post)

Source H

Online Reader Comments on “Upcoming NewSouth ‘Huck Finn’ Eliminates the ‘N’ Word”. Publishers Weekly[NAO1] , 6 Jan. 2011.

This is censorship. The problem with censorship is that it has no end...why not remove references to incest from "The Color Purple" or take out the murder from "Lord of the Flies"?
Just because an offensive word is removed from a work of fiction, it doesn't mask the truth or the history behind its use. I find it sad that teachers and parents feel the need to shelter children from a dark and ugly truth in our contry's history. If teachers embrace this edition, what book will be next? I thought the purpose of great literature was its resonance--the aftershocks following the initial quake in which one is left to ponder one's own import and purpose. I think those in support of this abridgement do not place enough faith in our youth's aiblity to discern for themselves what Twain intended in the writing of Huck Finn.

--Shannon Agnew (smarie22)

I read this book when I was 8 or 10 years old. I understood then that it was an important book and important for me to understand the concepts and language and reality of life during that time and the effects on the world I was living in.
Please, stop dumbing down our educational experiences, we're getting dumber by the minute as it is.
And to say that teachers can't teach it in its original form is just ridiculous. You have no business being a teacher if you can't tackle "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" and other great works of American literature.

--Penny Lane (crooowww)

The N-Word is, and will be, a toxic word in any language. When I read Twain in school, it was nearly painful and enraging to read it. Every chapter filled me with rage where the word popped up. I think, though, that this was Twain's intention. Jim was the most human character in Huck Finn, in my opinion, and the irony that he was referred in one of the most degenerate manners emphasised that point. Also, the language of the time was very offensive compared to now, and this captures how dark a history we had. Changing the language to make it "more accessible" is more sugar-coating of our past than recognising how far we've come since then. This sugar-coating culture is too overprotective of our youth, and probably part of the reason they are so apathetic now.

--Christopher Thompson (BoxyBrown)

Source I

Whelan, Debra Lau. “Student Vaughn Hillyard Awarded for Defending Free Speech.” School Library Journ...

(Introduction and first four paragraphs)

Source J

Beeler, Nate.  Washington Examiner. 7 Jan. 2011.  Web.  13 Jan. 2011.

Source K

Keefe, Mike. Cartoon. Denver Post. 8 Jan. 2011.

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