There is a specific problem with teaching this book. There is a word in it that some people don’t like. (Most people, in fact). It’s a fine book, a borderline classic. It would be a great shame if people stopped reading it for fear of a word. Is it better to change the word ‘nigger’, where it occurs, to stop publishing the book, remove it from libraries, stop worrying about it, or when encouraging children to read it, explain why it uses that word, and its significance in that context?
Banning books is not civilized, and is almost impossible in practice, anyway.
Changing the word to something else is possible, and has been done before, but it’s a matter for the publisher. The book is out of copyright and freely available in electronic form, and I can’t see Gutenberg or Amazon or anyone else bothering to make that change. Many books have things in them that a lot of people don’t like.
I don’t believe the bad word should be forcibly removed, and the idea of Bowdlerization of any sort does not much appeal. The author wrote what he wrote and he did so for reasons which we cannot always understand, or even know. In the case of Huck Finn, the word is largely used by Huck himself, is not usually derogatory in any way, and it is certainly not an expression of hate.
I have never used the book in class, but I was thinking about it, partly because of some discussion I saw about this very matter. If I did, the word could be used as one of many internal devices for interpreting the internal and external context of the book.
This is great in theory, but the theory would clash rather badly with reality if that reality were a black student in the classroom. There aren’t many here, hardly any in fact, and the word doesn’t have the same cultural implications, but in the English-speaking world, to try to explain that an expression that a black student has been told all his life means that someone hates you, and that he may well have experienced as such on a number of occasions, that he'll just have to lump it because that's what Twain wrote, is not quite so easy as it sounds.
I imagine it could be handled by asking the students what they think, negotiating among several options. Treating students as responsible, mature people is a good way of helping them to act like it, and to become like it. It would depend on the nature of the class. It's easy for a teacher to conclude that it's not worth the trouble, there are plenty of good books to read. I understand that position, but it can very instructive to work out a way of introducing difficult stuff in the classroom. It invariably means communicating with individuals, which is why it's rewarding for everyone, and why making some blanket policy, or talking in vacuo, doesn't work.
As a result of these idle ponderings I am about to read the book again. My thoughts may appear here in a few days.