Unjust Censorship Essay, Research Paper
Benninger, James E.
Thinking & Writing
Paper 3 / 4
One of the greatest inventions of modern times was the printing press. With it, the painstaking process of copying books by hand was abolished, and the circulation of books on a large scale began. With this circulation came the banning of many books that religious leaders felt were inappropriate (ACLU 1). Today, in an age when free speech and press are guaranteed by the Constitution, censorship of books is still occurring. Although the methods may have changed, many of today’s literary masterpieces are still being banned from schoolrooms and libraries on the premise that they may be inappropriate.
When books are challenged, restricted, removed, or banned, an atmosphere of suppression exists (ACLU 1). There are many ways in which this can occur. For an author who is currently writing to have banned books, that author may make revisions to their work, less for artistic reasons, but simply to avoid controversy. The editor or publisher may alter the text themselves or elect not to publish a book simply because of marketing reasons. Staff in bookstores may remove a book from their shelves that has been deemed too controversial to avoid any negative consequences. When literary classics become banned, students are left out from something far greater than over
zealous and conservative educators think they are protecting them from. The positive aspects a student picks up from a literary masterpiece are far greater than the few negative aspects of the book, which may be a few obscenities or sexual connotation. These few negatives are arbitrary arguments for banning a book when compared to the positive ideas, methods of thinking, and literary background a student can receive.
One of the most widely banned books is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Known for its detailed look into Southern life and human consanguinity, Huckleberry Finn is also known for its use of the word nigger. Although it may be a horrible word to use, no other word would have done to describe the feelings of some of the southern characters in the book. Had Mark Twain used African Americans, negros, or blacks, the point of unjustified hate by some towards the blacks would not have been as strong. If the novel were to be changed to make a few educators happy, much of the meaning of the book would be lost.
Another book that is infamous because of its absence from classrooms is Alice Walker’s The Color Purple-a novel about the courage and strength of a poor southern Black girl named Celie. Many schools have banned The Color Purple because of its “sexual content” (ALA 2). Much of the controversy surrounding the book is due to a rape scene in the first chapter in which Celie is raped by her father. Although not appropriate for younger readers, there is no reason that Celie’s story of a woman’s struggle through life should not be read by more mature audiences. What the first chapter
does is set the tone for the rest of the novel and is essential to the idea of Celie being a survivor.
Another notable novel that has been posted on many schools’ banned books list is The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The book describes in detail the horrific exploits of a band of young children who make a striking transition from civilized to barbaric. “The Lord of the Flies commands a pessimistic outlook” that seems to show that man is inherently tied to society, and without it, would likely return to savagery (Gerenser 223). The book contains many incidences of violence, two of which result in the death of two boys. However, these scenes of violence are essential to the author’s argument of man’s dependence on society. Furthermore, these scenes are nothing in comparison to many of the shows and movies that students watch on television or at theatres.
An author that has received much undue criticism recently is J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series. Proponents of its banning in elementary schools argue that its focus on wizardry and magic (ALA 2) may have an evil impression on children. Some goes as far as calling it satanic. But what basis do these people really have? The Harry Potter series is about fantasy and imagination. What would be of fantasy without magic? Do these people really think J. K. Rowling is writing these stories to turn children to the dark side? Fairytales and nursery rhymes have always been about mysticism. Many of the most popular fairytales like “Hansel and Gretel”–the story of two children, abandoned by their father in the woods, who find a witch and gingerbread house-has
never received criticism like J. K. Rowling’s books. Her stories are modern day fairytales. They offer children a new world to explore, not a symbolic gateway into witchcraft and demonism. Parents advocating the banning of Harry Potter simply need lighten up.
The consequences of book banning in schools can be much farther reaching than the conservative groups that justify its practice understand. Book banning is the censorship of learning. Literature broadens the horizons of a student, and without it, some schools are producing students that have a smaller understanding of the world around them. People that are for book banning need to understand that they are limiting the resources a pupil has to use. A person with a limited educational background is less likely to succeed than someone who has never been restricted in their search for knowledge. Although some materials are not be befitting for the average classroom setting, such as texts explaining how to make a bomb, masterful writers such as Mark Twain and William Golding should never be struck from the classroom. “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us” (Douglas 1).
American Civil Liberties Union. “Why Banned Books”. Internet.
American Library Association. Banned Books Week. “Fish in the River of Knowledge”.
Internet. www.ala.org/bbooks. 1,2.
Douglas, Supreme Court Justice William O. Interview w/ American Library
Association. Internet. www.ala.org/bbooks. 1.
Gerenser, Scott. “Humanity in Lord of the Flies” Essays on English Literature.
Ed. Jonathan E. Miller. Vol X. Oxford Press, 1987. 223.