Authors: The New Casualties of Censorship

Do you remember the days when you could read or write however you wanted to without worrying about someone telling you otherwise? Well neither do I. Since its creation in 1982, Banned Books Week has reported the banning of 11,300 books ever since and the ALA reports that 70 to 80 percent of them are not even reported[1]. Our idea of the freedom to write and read has been completely altered by society’s misconception of literature. The use of censorship has persisted in modern American society despite our national acceptance of traditional democratic ideals. Classical literature has been a form of philosophical teaching containing enduring qualities that often make a deep social commentary in which the time period it was written. Organizations have threatened the integrity of the public education system through censorship of novels that represent multiple viewpoints, different maturity levels, and diversity of appeal within these books. Schools and libraries across the nation have gotten on the censorship bandwagon.

In response to parental complaints, three high school libraries in Florida have restricted access to the award-winning graphic novel, This One Summer, for its controversial use of some of the language. The parent of a third grader at Sabal Point Elementary School showed concern and demanded its removal from the shelves of the library. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) reacted with a letter that stated that this complaint undermined the freedom to read. These sorts of complaints have become prevalent amongst books intended for young adults[2]. Increased numbers of complaints from parents have stemmed from accusing a book of age-inappropriate content for its readers. It is easy to take a certain passage of a novel on any page and accuse it of vulgar language, however, a primitive understanding of context has warped parents’ intolerant attitudes.

Now we move on to another complaining parent. A woman named Jackie Sims found out that her 15-year-old son had been assigned to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks over the summer. The novel tells the true story of a poor black woman whose cancerous cervical cells became the basis for medical advances without her knowledge making it a best-selling, critically acclaimed account about science, race, and ethics. She then claimed that she “considers the book to be pornographic” making the argument that gynecology is the equivalent to pornography[1]. Well according to her, now you can argue that you’re studying for a biology test every night. Jokes aside, it is clear that when certain excerpts or images from a novel are taken out of context, people begin to question how it can be intended towards a younger audience. But this narrow minded mindset has prevented students from asking the larger moral questions that these novels raise. Sims’ objection had gained popularity and people began to agree with her view even though many hadn’t even read the book. Proponents of censorship often argue that it preserves the innocence of the youth like what Sims seems to be making the case for [4]. However, with the transforming youth culture, most of the students have already been exposed to above age content. So are people really going to ignore what can be learned from these books in order to “preserve innocence?” Without the ability to question what we already know, our growth in our own learning can be hindered. I myself can attest to the fact that a great deal can be learned from a lot of these banned books.

When I mention the name Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn almost everybody knows exactly who these two misfits are. The popularity of these characters in American literature’s biggest milestones continue to influence our society. The widely acclaimed novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain continues to appear in the news, over one hundred years after its publication. The use of the N-word is undoubtedly a racial slur that continues to have a negative connotation. In an attempt to sanitize the text and make it less uncomfortable for readers, new editions of the novel have replaced language such as “injun” and “n — — r” with the phrases “indian” and “slave.”[3] However, supporters of the modified publication continue to ignore the reason as to why Twain would include such language in the first place. Twain pursued his life as an anti-racist; an indication that the repeated use of such derogatory language is deliberately intended, ringing with irony, and contributing to an overall message that Twain makes about societal behavior. To replace such language would be a deterioration of the novel’s meaning and its power as an instrument of inducing social change.

As a student at a public school, I have witnessed first hand how discussion of controversial books can promote greater learning. Open discussion of the uncensored text has given greater insight into Twain’s purpose of writing the novel and answering important questions regarding societal behavior. Removal of Twain’s intended language only makes our understanding of the book suffer and a complete ban would be a suppression of curiosity to answer such questions. Now isn’t that the whole purpose of reading books? A good novel makes you think about its message outside the realm of its pages. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for the controversy that the novel has raised. The novel has undoubtedly affected the way I think and has influenced my own intellectual interests.

It is not a coincidence that the majority of banned books have become America’s most celebrated classics. Intrinsic to such classic literature, is its aptitude for confronting society about social, political, philosophical, and moral controversies of its time. It is this same ability to challenge the status quo that develops the critical thinking needed to progress as a society and as individuals. Free expression is what initiated the modern feminist movement through the Feminine Mystique and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species has laid the foundation for biological research across the globe. Likewise Twain has discussed important themes such as race, morality dilemma, human behavior, and realism that helps us understand both the past and present. So what is censorship? Well it’s safe it say that its destruction of intellectual property and an infringement on our freedoms to express our own thoughts. I know my first amendment rights and so should you. I believe it is absolutely imperative for us as a society to put an end to what I feel has prevented us from making even greater social change. A pen and paper in the right hands can lead to social progression and a widespread shift in ideological thinking that our world needs.

  1. Graham, Ruth. “Why Do We Still Publicize Banned Books Week? The Good Guys Won!” Slate. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

2. “Florida High School Libraries Restrict Access to Award-Winning Graphic Novel.” National Coalition Against Censorship. NCAC, 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

3. Messent, Peter. “Censoring Mark Twain’s ‘n-words’ Is Unacceptable.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Jan. 2011. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

4. Mattix, Micah. “In Defense of Censorship.” The American Conservative. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

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