When material is censored, is knowledge being kept from the public? Throughout history, there have been countless instances in which people argued if certain pieces of literature should be banned. According to the first page of the article, “First Amendment and Censorship”, censorship is “The suppression of ideas and information that certain persons-individuals, groups, or government officials-find objectionable or dangerous”. One kind of censorship is book banning, which as stated by the article, “Banned Books: Why Are Books Banned?”, is “The actual removal of those materials”. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison is a prime example of a novel that faces much criticism and therefore has been banned from several institutions and removed from multiple school curricula. This novel is heavily controversial due to its graphic descriptions of sexual encounters, including rape and incest. Many individuals also disagree with the novel because of the inappropriate language used. Books, such as The Bluest Eye, should not be able to be banned because the First Amendment allows for the freedom of speech and the press. In addition, mature topics in literature help to educate and offer readers an opportunity to feel less emotionally isolated.
Book banning first started in the United States when it was brought over by Europeans (“Banned Books”). The way the process works is not simple. In order for a work of literature to be banned, it must first be challenged. There are numerous reasons why people challenge books. According to the charts, from 2000 to 2009, the top reasons why books were challenged were mostly because of sexually explicit content (about 1,600), followed by offensive language (approximately 1,800), then finally other kinds of objections (roughly 1,100). Some other reasons why people challenge books are because they feature violence, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, occult/satanism, nudity, racism, drugs, alcohol, smoking, and more (Banned Books: Why Are Books Banned?”). These reasons for challenges indicate that although the United States is full of individuals going through different kinds of hardships, people still do not want to admit to themselves that these problems are so prevalent. They criticize pieces of literature that dwell on issues they feel are inappropriate or unnecessary to the story, because they believe these ideas should not be in books. However, what they do not realize, or rather, what they refuse to accept, is that the United States consists of countless struggling individuals who could use literature for advice and relatability.
Challenges come from many different groups of people. According to the data, from 2000 to 2009, the most challenges by initiators came from parents (approximately 2500), followed by patrons (roughly 510), then finally administrators (about 490). In the same years, the greatest amount of challenges by institutions consisted of schools (about 1,800), followed by school libraries (approximately 1,650), then finally public libraries (roughly 1,200) (Banned Books: Why Are Books Banned?”). These statistics show that the most common reason challenges occur is because parents feel the need to protect their children from themes they view as dark or disturbing. In addition, most challengers aim to remove a book from school curriculum or school libraries. This goes to show the belief of many individuals that literature containing mature topics does not belong in school. Book banning has been a huge controversy ever since it was brought over to the United States, even though reading books with heavy topics can help individuals in many ways.
Books that contain mature subject matters may positively impact readers. Many novels feature characters facing the same issues as the reader. This provides readers with relatable characters and realistic ways to cope with the problems. Furthermore, “Books dealing with difficult issues help prepare readers for life’s challenges” (“Young Adult Literature: Is current young adult literature appropriate for teen readers?”). When children are shielded from novels that contain challenges they may encounter, they will miss out on information regarding how to manage these hardships. In addition, dark novels can be a way for teenagers to temporarily escape. They are not necessarily any darker or more disturbing than what teenagers witness in the real world (“Young Adult Literature: Is current young adult literature appropriate for teen readers?”). Despite all the positive effects of reading literature containing arguable text, book banning is still a widely debated topic. One reason why it is such a disputable topic is because of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment in the Constitution protects people of the United States from government suppression of ideas. It allows freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and petition. According to the First Amendment, authors can share their ideas. In addition, everyone can read as they please (“First Amendment and Censorship” 1). Therefore, according to the First Amendment, books should not be able to be banned. The First Amendment is crucial and needs to be better enforced because it provides extremely important kinds of freedoms for the people. Despite the First Amendment, book challenges and bans occur often.
One book that is challenged and banned frequently is The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. A multitude of people disagree with the book. However, these people should be informed of Morrison’s numerous accomplishments. First, she graduated high school with honors. She then went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English from Howard University, and a master’s degree in English from Cornell University. Morrison taught at Texas Southern University, Howard University, State University College in New York, and the State University at Albany. She also spent some time as an editor at Random House in New York. In addition to these achievements, Morrison also earned many recognitions, nominations, and awards. One of her novels, Sula, was nominated for a National Book Award. Another one of her works, Song of Solomon, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In addition, her book, Beloved, won her the Pulitzer Prize. Morrison was even named the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University. In addition, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. In fact, she was the first African American woman to receive this honor. Finally, former president, Barack Obama, awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. This award is the highest civilian award in the United States (“Toni Morrison Biography”). Morrison won a great number of awards and accomplished many different things. People need to stop criticizing her works for being controversial, and instead listen to what she has to say.
Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, is highly contentious. The main reasons why so many people disagree with the book are because it includes vivid portrayals of sexual intercourse, including rape and incest, and because of the vulgar and obscene terms utilized to enhance these scenes (Sova). However, the novel should not be banned. Although it contains topics some may find disturbing, it is a very valuable piece of literature that addresses important issues. For example, the novel addresses racism, incest, and rape, which unfortunately are extremely common issues today that are not spoken about enough. In addition, the novel illustrates a vital theme, how one’s perception of beauty is based on society. Therefore, the story is very educational for readers as it illustrates important themes and teaches valuable lessons.
The novel contains many scenes that would cause it to be challenged or banned. For instance, in one part, the narrator describes a woman’s experience having sexual intercourse with a man in detail. The narrator states, “While he moves inside her, she will wonder why they didn’t put the necessary but private parts of the body in some more convenient place-like the armpit, for example, or the palm of the hand” (Morrison 84). Many individuals disagree with sexual content in books because they feel it is not suitable for all readers (Maryland State Board of Education 1). However, the usage of graphic sexual descriptions is critical in the novel because they help to emphasize one of the main lessons conveyed, that women’s bodies are too often abused. This problem needs to be addressed. This scene of the novel is arguable. However, this is not the only scene that countless individuals disagree with.
Another disputable scene is when a character, Pauline Breedlove, describes the sexual activity she participates in with her husband, using a vulgar and obscene term. The narrator states, “Then he will lean his head down and bite my tit” (Morrison 130). Many individuals are against the usage of this kind of language in literature (Sova). Yet, it is inevitable that people will encounter language like this in the real world (Ferguson 2). This part of the book is highly contentious. However, there is still another essential scene that numerous individuals are against.
Perhaps the most widely debated scene of all, is when the character, Pecola, is raped by her own father. The narrator states, “Removing himself from her was so painful to him he cut it short and snatched his genitals out of the dry harbor of her vagina. She appeared to have fainted” (Morrison 163). This scene contains rape and incest, which some may perceive as dark or disturbing (Maryland State Board of Education 1). However, although these topics are undoubtedly heavy, they occur frequently. Yet, very little people speak out about them. Through the scenes of the novel that many deem inappropriate, Morrison sheds light on topics that are simply not discussed enough.
Controversial works of literature have countless benefits for readers. However, they also do have negative drawbacks. Many pieces of young adult literature seem to have become “dark, graphic and gruesome to an unprecedented degree”. They contain serious and contentious topics including suicide, addiction, self-mutilation, and more. Topics like these potentially could depress or dangerously influence teenagers. Furthermore, they could send the message to teenagers that these kinds of behavior are normal. What makes this an even bigger problem is that teenagers are especially impressionable, and therefore, should not be exposed to such negative themes. In addition, in many novels, gruesome and dark pathologies are graphically described, and profanity is extremely common. Some books dwell on and exaggerate life’s challenges to an extent so great it could traumatize someone. Finally, dark content burdens young people and should not be praised for benefitting young minds (“Young Adult Literature: Is current young adult literature appropriate for teen readers?”). Books with heavy subject matters may have negative effects on people.
The novel, The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison does not deserve to be challenged or banned. Although it explores heavy topics such as rape and incest, it is academically and emotionally educational. It conveys serious themes and is well-written by a highly credible author. For these reasons, the novel should be required reading in high school. High school students are mature enough to handle the heavy subject matters it addresses. In addition, the themes and lessons in the book are too valuable for students to miss out on. No book should be able to be banned because of the First Amendment, which allows for freedom of speech and the press. If continued, the banning of books will pose a threat to democracy, as it takes away the power of the First Amendment.
- “Banned Books.” Gale Student Resources in Context, Gale, 2018. Research in Context, http://link.gale.xana.orc.scoolaid.net/apps/doc/ACETGP296253233/MSIC?u=nysl_li_bocesnas&sid=MSIC&xid=c126f756. Accessed 30 December 2018.
- “Banned Books: Why Are Books Banned?” LibGuides, Arizona Board of Regents, libguides.asu.edu/c.php?g=718504&p=5216447. Accessed 16 December 2018
- Ferguson, Christopher J. “Is Reading ‘Banned’ Books Associated with Behavior Problems in Young Readers? The Influence of Controversial Young Adult Books on the Psychological Well-Being of Adolescents.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, vol. 8, no. 3, 2014, pp. 354–362., doi:10.1037/a0035601. Accessed 16 December 2018.
- “First Amendment and Censorship.” United for Libraries, 2 July 2018, www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship. Accessed 17 December 2018.
- Maryland State Board of Education. Christine T. Schwalm v. Montgomery County Board of Education. archives.marylandpublicschools.org/stateboard/legal_briefs/1999/SCHWALM 99-34.pdf. Accessed 19 December 2018.
- Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970. Accessed 10 December 2018.
- Sova, Dawn B. “Censorship History of The Bluest Eye.” Infobase, 2011, The Bluest Eye. Accessed 30 December 2018.
- “Toni Morrison Biography.” Chicago Public Library, Chicago Public Library, www.chipublib.org/toni-morrison-biography/. Accessed 30 December 2018.
- “Young Adult Literature: Is current young adult literature appropriate for teen readers?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 17 Oct. 2011, http://icof.infobaselearning.com/recordurl.aspx?ID=2144. Accessed 30 December 2018.