A note to educators: The following editions of American “classics” have been carefully reviewed and edited with regard to insensitive and inaccurate portrayals of people of color (POCs) and non–traditionally gendered persons. Every attempt has been made to retain the basic storyline and character details of the original texts, though occasionally small adjustments have been made to avoid giving shock or offense to non-cisgenders/POCs/allies.
From: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“Goodwives,” said a hard-featured dame of 50, herself a victim of a patriarchy with unchecked privilege, “I’ll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not.”
The townspeople turned from this speech in hurt and offense. Soon the dame was offered gifts of counseling and education and was required to tweet an apology to Goody Prynne, whose daughter, Pearl, would later be a popular performer on the stage.
From: Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, each time being so correct as to ask for my express verbal consent, and each time receiving it, and then drawing them back whenever it so seemed that my consent was coerced or the result of a micro-aggression on his part, and I, mindful of his status as an Indigenous Pacific Islander, who through luck or Providence — though there is no such thing, as we all know — had survived the Genocide that my people visited upon his, felt duty bound to give my consent for this and more, much more, so as to make up in some small way for the actions of my people against his in the past and in the present. So, anyways, what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future. “Shall we be married?” asked the Indigenously Inked Royal. “Perhaps yes,” was my reply. Which was taken as further express verbal consent, though it really wasn’t, but that was okay . . .
From: Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Well, pretty soon the lady from Child Protective Services came down to see about Old Pap, and before I knew it he was taken away for court-supervised alcohol treatment and parenting classes, which pleased me a fair piece, because Old Pap surely needed to be treated for his disease, and Lord knows we all needed to break the cycle of violence that often travels in families that don’t address their issues. So with Pap away I took the opportunity to sit and smoke and think about my own issues, which was when I came upon Miss Watson’s Jim! I bet I was glad to see him. I says:
“Hello, Jim!” and skipped out.
He bounced up and stared at me wild. Then he drops down on his knees, and puts his hands together and says:
“Doan’ hurt me — don’t! I hain’t ever done no harm to a ghos’. I awluz liked dead people, en done all I could for ’em. You go en git in de river agin, whah you b’longs, en doan’ do nuffn to Ole Jim, ’at ’uz awluz yo’ fren’.”
“That’s awfully offensive dialect,” I said. “I really do insist that you stop that. It literally hurts my ears.”
“Sorry, Huck,” Jim said. “I didn’t see who it was. Within a certain context, this dialect is appropriate among members of the race it’s supposed to demean, as we’ve appropriated it and subverted it in order to critique the unquestioned power structure.”
“I really admire how you’ve problematized the whole notion of dialect and patois,” I said to Jim.
“Please don’t condescend to me,” he replied. “That’s really offensive.”
“I am so sorry,” I cried out, and immediately set about posting a general apology on my Tumblr.
From: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P – — , in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.