Despite First Amendment and Censorship statement about “freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”, books in the United States still get banned or challenged because of reasons that range from religious and moral to racial issues and inappropriate content allegations. No, these are not only books promoting hatred or examples of what should be forbidden, but world classics included in the school curriculum.
Implementing American Library Association policies, Office for Intellectual Freedom faces endless requests from diverse organizations and individuals, claiming that books should be taken off the shelves.
As a result, it becomes a serious issue as the freedom to read is challenged with different opinions or analysis that are not always within common sense. Whether the voices that highlight disturbing issues should be silenced remains an ongoing debate, yet the inclusion of classics raises controversy and socio-cultural conflicts in American society.
List of Classic Books Banned or Challenged in the US
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger - perhaps, most famous censored book due to the unfortunate events it led to. It was removed from reading lists in many schools across the US. The most recent incident happened in 2009 when the book was challenged in the Big Sky High School in Missoula, Montana. Frequently banned or challenged due to obscene language, immoral behavior, anti-religious attitude, and references to prostitution.
General profanity and alcohol abuse were often named as reasons for getting this book removed from the school curriculum. However, Holden Caulfield represents protest, depicting rejection of existing social values, focusing on what a person wants to do. Reflecting issues frequently challenged by teenagers, the book contains complex controversy mixed with rebellion, which is expressed with no strings attached, remaining honest, even vulgar at times, yet still reflecting life with all of its bizarre sides.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck - winning Pulitzer Prize, this complex novel, depicting Great Depression times, speaks of important moral issues in a plain, yet very emotional, powerful language. As a person reads through each chapter, there is an unusual intensity as Steinbeck describes hardships and challenges of the migrant population. Portraying hardships, the author spoke in words that were common to angry, exhausted members of the society. Even though there is obscene language and some phrasing that religious people would find the offensive, true reason of getting this classic masterpiece challenged or banned is Steinbeck's attacks against Associated Farmers who are depicted in a negative light. This book was challenged, removed from reading lists and even burned once by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library in 1939.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee - another classic that most American children have read, which needs no introduction. Mild profanity and racial issues are named as reasons for banning the book, frequently coming under challenge in the school curriculum. As the book shows all sides of times it depicts, certain words of racial content are only natural. On the contrary to protesters, such an attitude only proves that there is no censorship, meaning that challenges faced by African Americans are not hiding under the carpet, but are discussed. Censoring this classic will only hide the problem. Indeed, while the reader can see relationships between classes, getting such writing banned is the same as getting The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn removed based on white supremacy concerns. The most recent incident happened in 2009, when the book was removed 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 “nigger."
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker - another winner of Pulitzer Prize that still becomes banned or challenged by censors in America. Telling a story of an African American woman, it does contain violent graphic scenes with a description of sexual abuse. Speaking of getting this classic included in the school curriculum, there is solid ground for debates as to whether rape scene description and violence scenes are appropriate for particular age groups. While it is not a book for children or teenagers per se, it is a painful, honest description of violence faced by women in society as they struggle for basic human rights and dignity. Recently, in 2008, it was challenged in Burke County schools in Morganton, NC by parents concerned about the homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the novel.
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding - banned on several occasions from school curriculum and frequently challenged by censors because of violence, racial comments, and graphic scenes of animal killing, Golding’s writing has often been marked as biased towards indigenous people as he provided diverse comparisons of war-painted characters to Indians or African American people. Without a doubt, readers can debate or analyze text passages as Golding used what he knew well to describe savagery, anger, despair, and fear in terms that most people would recognize. Nevertheless, censorship has touched upon classic’s human interactions reflection.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov - one of the most controversial, odd, and widely discussed books among those that become banned or challenged. Marked as obscene and unsuitable for minors, it was not initially banned in the United States, unlike France and England due to the themes of pedophilia and incest. Telling a complex, disturbing tale of a romantic relationship between a middle-aged man and an underage girl, it is not a book for a general audience or someone who is not going to challenge issues, which are not openly discussed in the modern society. Touching on taboo subjects, books like Lolita should be researched in psychological, social terms even with all the disturbances it may take along.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck - Telling a story once again set during the Great Depression era, this novel revolves around migrant ranch workers who are displaced, which forces them to look for a better life. Often blamed for profanity, anti-African American slurs or blasphemous attitude, the book constantly became removed from school shelves. According to parents, it deals with religion in an unacceptable way. Nevertheless, Steinbeck provides details regarding such attitude, focusing on different social classes with their typical language, attitudes, and morals. As the character notes, “guys like us got nothing to look ahead to”, which very well explains despair along with depressive, distorted morals.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley - a challenging, dystopian novel published in 1932. Banned and challenged in the United States for sexual content, drug use, and suicide theme, Huxley’s work is rarely approached as ironic writing where anti-moral behavior is not praised or seen acceptable. Another matter is whether there is literary value for high school students. If we compare 1930’s to modern times where the novel is still banned, it is safe to assume that Huxley’s arguments about what “brave new world” means still sound controversial. What has made this book classic is a detailed description of human immoralities as individuals painfully strive for a new world and freedoms. In 2008 it was retained in the Coeur D’Alene, ID School District despite objections that the book has too many references to sex and drug use.
Animal Farm, by George Orwell - this is where politics come into play, blaming Orwell for insulting allegories, comparisons or even Communist views. While there is no content, which would fall under obscene or graphic elements, it does contain deep satire, aimed at diverse social class members. Moreover, Orwell’s classic has often been understood as a slur against socialism or capitalism. Each censor took it as a personal insult, which made it a constant debate regarding what the author truly meant between the lines. Knowing Orwell’s writing style and constant metaphors in descriptions, it is best left for each reader to understand its own truth. The novel was banned not only across the US but also in Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin - First published in 1899, it represents unique, the emotional writing style with rare honesty and sincerity, telling about a woman who is both physically and emotionally locked in a marriage. Blamed for justification of marital infidelity or lack of moral principles clarity, Chopin's powerful work has been banned for decades after being published. Looking towards modern times, there are Christian parents or educators who cannot see past moral obligations while they read Kate Chopin's narration. While it shocks and goes against moral principles, "Awakening" is not about betrayal, but a book telling of emotional turmoil and marriage struggles of a woman striving for love, care, passion.
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess - first of all, it should be noted that novel is set in a satirical environment, using black comedy style. Objectionable views with constant portrayal of extreme violence, Burgess’s work has direct links to sociopathic behavior and sexual content. While it speaks of teenagers, it is not an easy book to read, making it definitely unacceptable for school children curriculum. Immorality, drug use, nighttime gangs with loss of any decency, “Clockwork Orange” has been removed from school programs, making it questionable as to what reasons made educators include it in the first place. Nevertheless, to quote the novel’s text, “Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” This statement fits banning books debate as fit as a fiddle.
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut - banned, challenged and even burnt for foul language, sexual content, blasphemy, torture depictions, and general vulgar behavior, which is not unacceptable for high school students reading list, but also for religious people whose feelings and faith are insulted. Considered anti-war writing, it uses brutality to show how much immoral, illogical, and irresponsible human beings are. Vonnegut challenges basically everything a man believes in, yet not really turning to nihilism. Exploring one horror after another, he is not aiming for education, but a portrayal of human flaws, hoping to make people stop and think. Debate still continues or, as the author puts it - and so it goes.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey - It should be noted that novel is set at the psychiatric hospital, which already tells quite a lot! Blamed for violence and promotion of secular humanism, the book has been taken literally without analysis of allegories of a mental ward to political system and oppression in the society. Even though talk goes about classic literature, it is relatively clear why this particular book is not seen as a part of the school curriculum because it is not an educational book per se, but analytical writing that would apply more to psychiatrists or social workers trying to see light through professional struggles. Still, books like this force people analyze darker layers of present society, reminding us that action should be taken.
As Mark Twain said, classic is a book, which people praise and don’t read. Same happens with books getting banned or challenged - a single profane word or violent scene place books in a blacklist as if it helps solve social problems. Permitted or banned, every book carries an important lesson. Question is whether a person who reads it learns from it as the last page is turned. Even with dark, controversial sides of life, there should be freedom of choice.