Thursday, January 13, 2011

Should Ray Bradbury replace "niggers" in Martian Chronicles?

In light of the latest literary shit storm over the use of the n-word in Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), do you think the timeless guy of science fiction & fantasy Ray Bradbury should replace the word "niggers" in his classic collection, The Martian Chronicles (1950)? Here are two passages from the racially charged story "Way in the Middle of the Air" illustrating how the word is used in the book:

June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air

Did you hear about it?”
“About what?”
“The niggers, the niggers!”
“What about ‘em?”
“Them leaving, pulling out, going away; did you hear?”
“What you mean, pulling out? How can they do that?”
“They can, they will, they are?”
“Just a couple?”
“Every single one here in the South!”
“I got to see that. I don’t believe it. Where they going–Africa?”
A silence.
“You mean the planet Mars?”
“That’s right.”
The men stood up in the hot shade of the hardware porch. Someone quit lighting a pipe. Someone else spat out into the hot dust of noon.
“They can’t leave, they can’t do that.”
“They’re doing it, anyways.”
“Where’d you hear this?”
“It’s everywhere, on the radio a minute ago, just come through.”
Like a series of dusty statues, the men came to life.
Samuel Teece, the hardware proprietor, laughed uneasily. “I wondered what happened to Silly. I sent him on my bike an hour ago. He ain’t come back from Mrs. Bordman’s yet. You think that black fool just peddled off to Mars?” [...]

[…] Samuel Teece wouldn’t believe it. “Why, hell, where’d they get the transportation? How they goin’ to get to Mars?”
“Rockets,” said Grandpa Quartermain.
“All the damn-fool things. Where’d they get rockets?”
“Saved their money and built them.”
“I never heard about it.”
“Seems these niggers kept it secret, worked on the rockets all themselves, don’t know where–in Africa, maybe.”
“Could they do that,” demanded Samuel Teece, pacing about the porch. “Ain’t there a law?”
“It ain’t as if they’re declarin’ war,” said Grandpa quietly.
“Where do they get off, God damn it, workin’ in secret, plottin’?” shouted Teece.
“Schedule is for all this town’s niggers to gather out by Loon Lake. Rockets be there at one o’clock, pick ‘em up, take ‘em to Mars.”
“Telephone the governor, call out the militia,” cried Teece. “They should have given notice!"

So what do you think? Should Ray Bradbury replace “niggers” in The Martian Chronicles?


  1. No! No! No! And I'm speaking as someone who has been called a nigger by people who believed in the word. I diminish THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES the way it does HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Some people can't see the story for the words!

  2. It's a slightly different issue to HUCK FINN, because (a) Bradbury is still alive/retains copyright and (b) he has revised the contents of CHRONICLES several times. That particular story isn't included in all versions of CHRONICLES in any case.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. I cannot imagine that Bradbury would ever consent to replacing the word.