Translating national history for children: a case study of a classic

B.J. Epstein


Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is arguably about the history of theUnited States in terms of slavery and race relations. How, then, can this be translated to another language and culture, especially one with a very different background in regard to minorities? And in particular, how can this be translated for children, who have less knowledge about history and slavery than adult readers? In this essay, I analyse how Twain’s novel has been translated to Swedish. I study 15 translations. Surprisingly, I find that instead of retaining Twain’s even-handed portrayal of the two races and his acceptance of a wide variety of types of Americans, Swedish translators tend to emphasise the foreignness, otherness, and lack of education of the black characters. In other words, although the American setting is kept, the translators nevertheless give Swedish readers a very different understanding of theUnited Statesand slavery than that which Twain strove to give his American readers. This may reflect the differences in immigration and cultural makeup inSwedenversus inAmerica, but it radically changes the book as well as child readers’ understanding of what makes a nation.


Mark Twain; Literature; Translation

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