Did you know that The Lorax by Dr. Seuss was a banned book? Yes, the charming environmentalist story for children was once banned in schools and libraries around the United States.
Books are banned for a variety of reasons by a variety of people and groups. Some books are banned by groups concerned about political statements. For example, Hitler banned all books about communism. Hitler also banned, and burned, all books by Jewish authors. His political statement was clear: exclusion of the “other” in his perfect society. Another example of a book that may have been banned for political reasons is 1984 by George Orwell. It features a dystopian, totalitarian society that is controlled by propaganda and strict laws. No dissent is allowed. This book is widely viewed as a commentary on the dangers of communism or dictatorships in general.
Other groups seek to have books banned based on content that they perceive to be too mature or inappropriate for the intended audience. This generally applies to parents and schools. One of the most contested novels of 2014 is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It is about a black family struggling to survive. It contains sexual content and controversial content, probably pertaining to race relations in this country.
Before we rush to judge a book or remove it entirely from library shelves, let’s think about what banned and challenged books are really all about: challenging our own beliefs and causing us to think.
This is NOT a bad thing. Thinking is the BEST thing. A book that challenges us, challenges our world view, opens our eyes to other options and other ways of thinking. We live in a world with thousands of points of view and different beliefs, with billions of different individuals. We cannot operate in a bubble that is restricted to just what we personally think. To grow as humans, we must be exposed to challenging materials and learn about challenging topics.
Having said that, is there a line that sometimes needs to be drawn because of age and content? Absolutely! I would never suggest that a middle schooler read The Bluest Eye. The sexual content, while it does move the story forward, doesn’t match their maturity level. But for a senior in high school or a college student? That is absolutely acceptable material BECAUSE it makes the reader question their thinking about race and racial policy in our country. The sex is not central to the story, is is a small part of the plot line.
There is a huge difference between a book about sex and a book that contains sexual content. Smutty romance novels where the only aim of the book is for character A and character B to interact in that manner is a book about sex. But a book that is largely about something else entirely, and happens to contain sexual acts, is not a book about sex. And one scene in an otherwise engaging and thoughtful book should not be cause to ban it outright.
Books should also not be banned because of a religious difference or because the content is something that a group doesn’t agree with. That is just one point of view, and the book presents a different point of view. Differing opinions move us forward as humans. By banning a book over a difference of opinion, you are denying others a chance to learn and grow and expand their own thinking.
Hitler banned books to STOP people from reading, from thinking, and from growing. He banned books to oppress groups of people that he felt threatened by because of their religions or political beliefs.
Don’t be like Hitler. Read books that challenge your thinking, and allow your kids to do the same (under your guidance). Grow as humans.