Why Banning Books is a Mistake

Every once and awhile I hear about another book that is causing a stir, for one reason or another, and which ends up on a banned book list.

I finally decided to do some digging to find out what is on the list and why. Here’s what I’ve discovered…

From the American Library Association website:

Each year, the ALAs Office for Intellectual Freedom records hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries shelves and from classrooms. According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. The titles below represent banned or challenged books on that list. For more information on why these books were challenged, visit challenged classics web site.

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
  7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  9. 1984, by George Orwell
  10. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
  11. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  12. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  14. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  15. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  16. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  17. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  18. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  19. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  20. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
  21. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  22. Native Son, by Richard Wright
  23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  24. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  25. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
  26. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  27. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
  28. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  29. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  30. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
  31. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
  32. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  33. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  34. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
  35. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  36. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
  37. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
  38. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
  39. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
  40. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
  41. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  42. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
  43. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
  44. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  45. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
  46. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

The books in bold are those I have read. For a number of other ones on the list, I’ve seen the film adaptations. I am surprised by the number of classics that have been added to the banned books list. How does something retain “classic” status if new generations are blocked from reading them? Even the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is on the list of non-classic books that have been banned.

I some cases, banning means it is not allowed to be on library shelves. In most cases, they cannot be assigned as reading to public school kids. I am appalled that a title like “To Kill a Mockingbird” can no longer be taught in schools – that was where I was first exposed to almost all of the bolded items above. Harper Lee’s classic has become a personal favorite of mine as a result. It carries a powerful message that all students can benefit from. Here is the reason given by ALA for the banning:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Challenged in Eden Valley, MN (1977) and temporarily banned due to words “damn” and “whore lady” used in the novel.

Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980)  as a “filthy, trashy novel.”

Challenged at the Warren, IN Township schools (1981) because  the book does “psychological damage to the positive integration process” and “represents  institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” After unsuccessfully trying to ban Lee’s novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory  council.

Challenged in the Waukegan, IL School District (1984) because the novel uses the  word “n****r.”

Challenged in the Kansas City, MO junior high schools (1985).

Challenged at  the Park Hill, MO Junior High School (1985) because the novel “contains profanity and  racial slurs.” Retained on a supplemental eighth grade reading list in the Casa Grande, AZ Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National  Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use.

Challenged at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools (1995) because of its racial themes.

Removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA (1995) because the book’s language and content were objectionable.

Challenged at the Moss Point, MS School District (1996) because the novel contains a racial epithet.

Banned from the Lindale, TX advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.”

Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) School Board member because of profanity. The novel was retained.

Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, OK High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text.

Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High School’s sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans. Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, NC (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “n****r.”

Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.”  The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”

Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, NJ Board of Education (2007).  A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression.  The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it.

Removed (2009) from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word “n****r.”

Unfortunately, children in North America are frequently exposed to the language for which this book has been banned. As for the book promoting racism…I always considered it to do the opposite; Atticus Finch proves without question that the colored man he is defending is innocent, and yet he is found guilty due to his color. Does this not simply teach about the injustices that persist to plague the colored community in America, long after slavery was abolished, and even after segregation was ended. Like it or not, colored people were commonly referred to as “n****rs” during that time.

Perhaps the real fear is educating our children about our sad history of persecution, abuse and racism? But is our hate or embarrassment towards the actions of our ancestors reason to keep it from our children? Should schools not be teaching WWI and WWII history in school because we don’t like what happened during that time? Should we deny the Holocaust took place because it is an embarrassment to the human race?

In 2001 I had the opportunity to visit Poland, and Auschwitz. Several people I know, who lived throughout WWII, were upset that a young girl would visit such a place. They felt it was best to move on and not be exposed to the camps’ tragic history. In one of the buildings in the main compound (Auschwitz 1), there was a sign prominently displayed inside the door. It’s message has stuck with me to this day…

‘He who forgets history is doomed to repeat it’

(George Santayana)