Disciplinary Hat: You, Literary Scholar
A Speech to the Canon Crowd
Imagine you have been invited to speak to The Mark Twain House and Museum, due to your extensive knowledge and research of the text on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You have been asked to speak on a controversial topic, the proposition:
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be rewritten so as to remove any offensive language."
To prepare for this speech, you must research the book carefully, trying to imagine whether edits will seriously improve or compromise the integrity of the work.
- Review your annotations, notes, and journals for chapters 1-10 of the book. How would you describe the book's purpose at this point? In other words, what artistic and moral reasons might Mark Twain have for writing this book with this diction and dialect?
- Decide in a discussion with your mentor whether Mark Twain is successful in achieving this artistic and moral purpose, or whether his work has unintended consequences. To prove your point, find passages that you believe would inspire particular reactions in readers, both positive and negative.
- If literature represents zeitgeist, how is Twain's work illustrative of a certain era of American history, for better or worse? (Return to Lesson 1 and your course reader to consider the historical documents and other excerpts, and then use the next page to study the pre-Civil War era.)
- Give an example of how one of these passages should be rewritten, for better or for worse. As you rewrite, keep these questions in mind:
- Could Huck Finn be rewritten without any offensive language, so that it can be read in more classrooms?
- If so, will the work's integrity be maintained or compromised?
- What is gained, and what is lost? Think in terms of characterization, dialogue, plot, and setting. Think also in terms of theme.
- Is it important to read works that reflect the zeitgeist of particular eras of American history? Why or why not?
- Write an analysis of your rewritten passage in 100-250 words. Answer the question: What effect does the rewriting have on the purpose of the novel?
- Keep all your notes handy. You will return to these questions in order to complete your speech as you finish the novel.
Now it's time to get back to your Timeline.