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Censorship - Banning Books

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Literature has long been an important part of human life. We express our feelings with ink and paper; we spill out our souls on dried wood pulp. Writing has been form of release and enjoyment since the beginning of written language. You can tell a story, make yourself a hero. You can live out all your fantasies. You can explore all of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and share them with the outside world. But just because you can write, don't think you are uninhibited!


      It doesn't matter who you are. If you write a book, paper, or other work of choice, somebody is going to contest you. Some one isn't going to like what you have to say, and they will try to cause a stir. Don't try to deal with issues of racism, sexism, murder, sexuality, etc. That will only get you banned, barred, or burned. Controversy is a trigger for argument, so if you write about something controversial, people will have something to say about it. It doesn't matter whom the book was written for, about, or by. For example, you can't write about racism in America. We don't have any of THAT, do we!?


I remember well my ex-boyfriend reading Of Mice and Men.  It was required reading for his Senior English class. However, in the 1990's, this book was challenged and banned in many schools across the country. The book deals with a mentally challenged man who kills some one, and, in the end, is killed himself by his "best friend." And don't think the language was overlooked!


All kids love the "Harry Potter" series. But they don't know that by reading it they are "indulging in sinful and Godless acts" or that these books are putting them on the fastest train to Hell. I own A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelfth Night, and Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, all of which have been or are banned. What's going on here?


      The most frequently challenged and/or banned books in 2001 were:


?        The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, for its focus on wizardry and magic.

?        Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, for using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

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"Censorship - Banning Books." 10 Mar 2018

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?        The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (the "Most Challenged" fiction book of 1998), for using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

?        I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, for sexual content, racism, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group.

?        Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene for racism, offensive language and being sexually explicit.

?        The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

?        Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for being sexually explicit, using offensive

      language and being unsuited to age group.

?        Go Ask Alice by Anonymous for being sexually explicit, for offensive language and drug use.

?        Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, for offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

?        Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause for being sexually explicit and unsuited to age group. (American Library Association)

Is there anything suited to the "age group?"


Some of these books may seem justifiably banned. But isn't it an infringement of ones freedom of speech? I decided to take a look at a few of the books I found that were banned and find out why. The first of these was Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. I have never actually read the book before (or seen the movie which made it famous, by Stanley Kubrick), so I am only skimming over some of the details here. This book is very difficult to even understand unless you can comprehend the slang that is used. The back cover of the book reads, "A vivacious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his an his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"(Eric Stevenson) Sounds odd, right? I don't know what a droog is, but I do know the concept of predicting the future in literature is vastly popular (I know everyone has read Orwell's 1984). By using this format, one can express fantasies, dreams, fears, and hopes. However, there are always the critics who try to shoot down the ideas. Extremity and lack of credibility are two reasons often used to dismiss a "preminitionary" work.


In the movie version, one of the first scenes that one would see is Alex and his pals breaking into a man's house and raping his wife, or daughter ( I'm not sure exactly who she is) while they hold him down and make him watch. Now, you're thinking, "Why would anyone want to read this?" Like I said, the preminitionary approach can often be used to express one's fears about the future. Perhaps Burgess was only trying to use this "vivid" example in order to shock the reader into paying attention to what's going on around them. This outlook on the future is certainly an eye opener. Because of the graphic nature and description of some of the incidents accounted in this novel, it is somewhat understandable that it could be controversial. However, I do not condone censorship of literature. The shock factor of this novel is slightly buffered by the incomprehensible slang used to portray the rough English scenery. I personally like the way the book is written, although some of it is less than digestible.


Skipping back in time, we come across a novel by the infamous David Herbert Lawrence: Lady Chatterley's Lover. This book was written in 1928, just before he died. The book was banned, and the unexpurgated version was not allowed in legal circulation in Britain until 1960 (Durrell), some 30 years after Lawrence's death. The tome was branded as pornographic. Early on in the book, it talks about two young girls giving themselves to men, outside of love and outside of wedlock. Back in the day, this was almost as taboo as one could get. It was a sin to talk about, and it was an even more fiery subject to put into ink. The idea of a woman, especially a married woman and moreover a married woman of nobility, was risqué to the point of being almost blasphemous


The final chapters of the tale become somewhat vulgar (by 1929 standards) and the f-word is used several times. " the peace of f@ck!ng. We f@ck$d a flame into being. Even the flowers are f@ck$d...So I love chastity now, because it is the peace that comes of f@ck!ng...then we can f@ck the little flame brilliant and yellow..." I think you get the picture. The book goes into explicit detail about the sexual encounters between Chatterley and her lover. It describes pretty much everything that happens between them in their ongoing rendezvous', with Playboy-like accuracy and depiction.


But this manuscript is a classic, right? Now, I wouldn't exactly recommend it for a high school freshman English class. But I do think it deserves credit as being a great novel, even if the content about which is being so elaborately delineated is something that could serve as the plot for the next movie of the month on the Spice Channel. All great literature has a hook to it. Lady Chatterley's Lover's just happens to be that it is very sexual in nature. It's kind of like Harlequin Romance Novels, before Harlequin.


Lawrence was the victim of childhood abuse (probably sexual), or so it would seem from the introduction to my copy. This is most likely the basis of his novel, Sons and Lovers. (Durrell) (This could not be expressed precisely in the novel, however, because incest and sexual abuse were hush-hush topics that you DID NOT discuss, {whether it was happening or not!})


I, for one, like Lawrence's approach to the novel. It's smooth and fluid, so much so that you almost forget that you are reading something that sounds like it could be the script to the next episode of Jerry Springer. He makes it believable. Let's be honest. Women and men have been cheating on their spouses since the advent of the marriage; it's just that nobody talked about it. It wasn't dirty laundry that was aired. It was overlooked and forgotten as a minor complication of the whole union. However, it was more "acceptable" for a man than a woman to engage in such an act. This would explain why L.C.L. was so choked upon. For the very closed-minded, it was/is probably very easy to write it off as sophisticated verbal pornography, but these are also the people who likely couldn't see the sun at noon-time, if you know what I mean.


The final book I looked at was the aforementioned Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. I believe, if memory serves, the basis for barring of this book was language and being inappropriate for age group. I actually read this one (on my own) and thought it was wonderful. Whenever someone can successfully pull off dialect in a novel, it is a trigger for me: I get hooked, because so few people can do it. Despite some of the words used in the book, I still think it is a wonderful piece of fiction (I am a Steinbeck fan).


 Going through the book, I counted numerous "offensive" words. Here's the breakdown: The word hell (in the cursing, non-Biblical way) was used about 59 times. In the work, which has 107 pages, this is an average of around once every 1.81 pages. Damn was used 28 times, the "n" word (racial slur), 12 times, bastard 14 times, God (in vain) 15, Jesus (also in vain) 22, s-o-b, 9, bitch, 4, and my least favorite G.D. (rhymes with mod ham) was used 20 times. This is the only thing I really have a problem with. Well, that and the "n" word. They aren't a part of my vocabulary, and I was raised to find this extremely disrespectful. Other than these minor flaws, I find the opuscule fascinating and enjoyable.


So what's the whole point of this rather lengthy account of opinionated drivel? I think that literature should speak for itself, even if the language in which it is written is considerably inexplicable (consider A Clockwork Orange). No one has to explain their reasoning behind publishing a certain piece of work. And who are we to ask for an explanation? A person's reasons for writing anything are solely their own, and, if for no other reason than personal gratification, that is more than enough. We cannot begin to explain what Lawrence was feeling when he wrote Chatterley, or where Burgess' grim account of the future in Orange is rooted. Is it genius, is it insanity? Is it offensive, or is it the definition of an age, an era? It is not our place to know.


All we can do is enjoy these treasures while we are able, and this probably means being less critical and more open minded about what we are reading. We, as a people, need to stop focusing on what the words say, and concentrate more on what they mean. We are always looking for purpose where there isn't always purpose to be found. Yet, when it comes to artistry and creativity, we often close the doors of the mind in lieu of mental gratification. We want to believe that we have everything figured out and that there is a specific purpose and meaning for everything. This isn't so. In the grand scheme of things, we know absolutely nothing. Not enough emphasis is put on creative freedom and free reign over ones thoughts. This is why I believe there hasn't been a truly great novel written since the early 20th century.


Works Cited

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.

Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley's Lover. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.

Lawrence, D. H. Sons and Lovers. New York: Penguin Books, 1977

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin Books, 1965.


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Against Banning Books

August 30, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye. The Scarlet Letter. Huckleberry Finn. Harry Potter. The Diary of Anne Frank. Animal Farm. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Da Vinci Code. The Grapes of Wrath. These literary classics have been vital to the education of many, especially children and adolescents. These great novels both teach important values and educate children about world affairs and classic themes. Unfortunately, each of these novels has been banned at one point in time. Many of these classic stories have been banned because of sexual references, racial slurs, religious intolerance, or supposed witchcraft promotion. Although some may consider these books controversial or inappropriate, many English classes have required us to read these books. Like the teachers that assigned us these books, I believe that even controversial books can ultimately boost, not deter, our educational wealth. I oppose book banning for three main reasons. First, I believe that education should be open to everyone. Everyone should have an opportunity to read any literature of their choosing and form his or her own opinions based on the reading. Micah Issitt lists "three basic rights covered under the freedom of the press: the right to publish, the right to confidentiality of sources, and the right of citizens to access the products of the press." My second reason specifically addresses the last right stating that citizens should have access to the press. The government should not restrict books from being published or interfere into personal affairs as this is an infringement of the First Amendment. Finally, I believe that parents should monitor what their own children read, but not have the authority to ban other children from reading these novels. For these reasons, I conclude that the government should play no role in the issue what citizens do and do not read, and that book restriction should remain a solely private matter.
At first glance, the debate over banning books appears unimportant. Nevertheless, this debate has divided our nation into those who favor censoring books to protect their impressionable adolescents, and those who argue that education should be open for everybody without interference from the government in restricting the publishing and accessing of these books. Issitt argues that censoring books violates the First Amendment, stating that "citizens must be free to seek out any media, regardless of content, that they deem appropriate for entertainment, information, or education. Denying the rights of the consumer, in any area, is one of the hallmarks of authoritarianism."

While I do not equate banning books with "authoritarianism," we do endorse Issitt's belief that individual citizens have the right to choose, under their own discretion, what books to read. The First Amendment protects the freedom of expression and speech, and by prohibiting certain messages, the government clearly infringes upon public rights. On the other hand, Healey claims that censorship does not "repress information that teenagers and children are exposed to," but merely gives parents the rights to educate their children in the ways they deem appropriate. Though I concede that parents do have the right to monitor what their children read, they do not have the right to remove books from public libraries or monitor what other children in the city read. Healey attempts to persuade readers that "censorship of books should not be about silencing voices on important topics, but about steering young people toward the best possible literature;" however, she fails to specify what constitutes as "the best possible literature." Some of "the best possible literature" also happen to cause the most controversy, including Huck Finn, Harry Potter, The Scarlet Letter, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Those who protest against these books have clearly not studied them in depth. For example, the main theme in Huckleberry Finn focuses not on advocating racism, as some suggest, but proving that race does not define a person's intelligence or capability for compassion. Even Healey admits that "concerned parents and community members react without taking the time to closely investigate the books they want banned."

While I agree that parents should play an active role in educating their children and as their primary guardians, have the legal right to monitor what their children read, I disagree that this legal right extends to controlling what other children in the neighborhood read as well. Prohibiting children from reading a book will not enhance their moral values. Rather, banning a book more likely will increase curiosity for reading it. I also empathize with parents who ban books with controversial or uncomfortable subjects because they are unsure as to how their children will react or how to explain such topics. A good way to discuss these subjects with children is to read books with various views on the subject so that children can experience multiple points of view before forming their own opinions. Healey herself agrees that such a method "might help young people better understand the world they live in, the human condition, and issues they face in their culture."

As Healey stated, parents also tend to ban books based on "moral grounds, although some books have been condemned for their perspectives on civic values and history." For this very reason, the general public should read these books. Our society, especially our younger children, needs to read these books since fully understanding a topic requires knowledge of both sides. If we choose to disregard even a highly unpopular opinion, we intentionally choose to live in ignorance, only partially educated in a topic we claim to know so well. Without a doubt, if we continue to ban books and ignore what some consider taboo topics, we hinder ourselves and our children from finding ways to solve society's problems, thus hampering the development of our nation as a whole.

Many conservative groups make the argument that the books that have been banned have material that is inappropriate, immoral or contradicting the beliefs they have ingrained in their children and/or their society. Take for consideration the controversial books that tackle difficult, touchy social issues like homosexuality. Books like "Heather Has Two Mommies," by Leslea Newman and "Daddy's Roommate" by Michael Willhoite (both books written for youth with gay parents) were shot down by conservative groups because they attempted to educate children about homosexuality, an issue parents felt needed to be taught to their respective children by them. While this may seem like a valid argument, really it is just skirting around the actual issue. Book-banning cases usually concern the protection of children and their innocence, but all that is happening is sheltering parents showing an awkward avoidance of their children's confrontation with uncomfortable matters. It is not only selfish, but also harmful to the overall education of their children. This act of prohibiting books is just the parents way of evading of the conversation with their child about these sensitive issues. These two books are issues that Healey brings up in her argument on how groups were upset about the way these books informed their children of homosexuality. Homosexuality and other touchy social issues are part of every day life, and for a group to attempt to censor this subject from younger society is almost absurd; these issues are not monstrous and the censorship of them not only shows prejudice but lack of respect. Banning books seems to be the most public solution for a private matter- not everyone should have to suffer restrictions because one group feels uncomfortable with the book. That being said, there are often books that contain graphic and often highly inappropriate material; I do consent that these books should be censored at the discretion of the parent, or anyone involved however, no one is forcing books upon others, so we should not be forced to remove them. Other groups would say that it's also the duty of the government to regulate these books to protect concerned citizens and their families, but I would have to disagree. It's the exact opposite of the government's role- our private lives, the books we read, should be regulated and controlled by us. Banning books from public congregations is not what the government was intended to do.

Topics that seem socially outlawed in public, let alone published, have been banned because their immoral content may have a negative affect on younger children. In these books, authors doesn't promote or encourage bad behaviors, they prepare their readers for some of the real world challenges. The child would never be able to learn these things if the book was banned, nor be able to form his or her own opinion about that certain topic. Healey discusses that the book, 33 Snowfish, a "dark story of three teenage runaways who are victims of various forms of abuse..." by Adam Rapp may be an unsuitable way to educate children on these timely topics. However, having these stories banned all together would just further shelter a child whose parents may not be willing to discuss these issues with them at all. Even though these books center around scary topics, they are educating children on real life matters that they will be exposed to once they venture into the world themselves. Healey goes on to make the point that the books should not be banned as well, since it is a matter of private opinion not one to be made by the public libraries of a community. She suggests that schools should "inform parents about the kinds of books they offer children" in their libraries and classrooms instead of banning them. With the knowledge that some of these books have to offer, children can learn how not to act and what can be the consequences if they do misbehave. This learning experience could turn around with the help of a parent and pass a positive affect over the child.

Clearly, banning books not only hinders a child's educational development but also leaves them unaware of the true state of the world. Books do not simply impart general information; they heavily influence a child, the future generation. Without regular access to books, both adults and children could not form sound opinions, only narrow-minded ones. Both advocates and opposers of book banning agree that "books are powerful instruments." Otherwise, a debate on the subject would neither have arisen nor lasted so long. Because books "can be used to...inculcate values and transmit ideology, and to stimulate the imagination," as Healey suggests, any person should remain free to select his or her reading material. This personal issue of selecting reading material has no relation to the government. On the contrary, government action interferes with individual education, a primary American value. Ultimately, children can learn personal responsibility in determining which books to regard and which to discard. In the future, these children will become well-educated adults who can benefit the American society.