The Controversy of Book Bans

By Mabel Soriano, 11th Grade

Stephen Chbosky once said, “Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight”. Books play an essential role in every person’s life by introducing us to a world of imagination, expanding our horizons, knowledge, and perspective. Books act as doorways that connect us to the world around us, making them of undeniable significance. So, what happens when we censor the epitome of knowledge?

Book banning is the most widespread form of censorship in the United States. According to the American Library Association (ALA), a challenged book is an attempt to remove or restrict certain materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. 

The ALA records all the challenged and banned literature ever since its creation in 1876. Incredibly so, many well-known books are on this record. In 1987, the Baptist College in Charlestown, South Carolina, challenged the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald because of language and sexual references in the book. Similarly, the Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger has been a favorite target of censors since its publication, including a record of 16 challenges and 14 removals. It has been called obscene, unacceptable, anti-white, profane, violent, and defamatory. The same goes for The Color Purple, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses, Beloved, The Lord of the Flies, and Animal Farm, to name a few. Even 1984 by George Orwell holds the erroneous depiction of a pro-communist novel that portrays excessive sexual content. Yet, these novels have won Pulitzer Prizes, which acknowledged them as the best work of American literature. They have earned the privilege of being referred to as classics, books that transcend through time. Classics express artistic quality, have universal appeal, make connections, and are relevant to multiple generations. Therefore, how can such a loved and substantial literary work simultaneously be considered inappropriate? 

“What you can see with book bannings is that they are bound to whatever is causing anxiety in society,” says Emily Knox, author of Book Banning in 21st-Century America. In November 2021, conservative Virginians revolted against the explicit content taught to their children and demanded their removal. Novels containing any commentary about race and sexuality were placed under the microscope. One of the targeted books was 33 Snowfish, a heartfelt book about three homeless teenagers and their will to survive. The main characters were involved in theft, kidnapping, and substance abuse. The concerned parents believed that heady themes of poverty, addiction, and abuse have no place in the sanctums of learning. They bluntly expressed their disgust towards how the novel portrays “adult behavior” on children and, therefore, the book needed to go. 

In actuality, most of the challenged books so far, across fiction and non-fiction, are about race and LGBTQ identities. Therefore, the challenged and removed novels are not judged based on their quality but rather on the controversial topic behind them. The previously mentioned books are exceptional and of immense literary value. However, they are being denied to younger demographics to prevent “stirring the waters” and inculcating knowledge that is considered inappropriate. George R.R. Martin, a well-known science fiction author, and screenplay writer, addressed this issue in the following quote. “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you are only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” Accordingly, the bans have had unexpected repercussions. Since Republican legislators nationwide are pushing to ban “explicit” books, narratives concerning race, gender, and inequality are in the process of removal. Regardless, sales are rising as the frenzy appears to have the opposite effect. 

After analyzing this data, it concludes that the controversial aspects of these novels are increasing their appeal to different generations and demographics, quite literally making them classics. This is a great example of the Streisand effect, a phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequences of increasing awareness of that information. Confusing, right? The banned books are the same books with the highest audience and level of interest. These books are works of art, yet tinted by the conversations they create. “There are people who would rather not have conversations around these books because they address legacies of racism and fascism that are still alive today” said Maya Mackey, an advocate for book distribution in Texas. Nonetheless, “to have a truly educated society and democracy, we need to have conversations around books like these.” Additionally, these discussions need to start in school to create a better society. 

The real question to consider is: what are the consequences of censoring such impactful literature? Maus, a Pulitzer-winning book about the mass murder of Jewish people during the Holocaust, has been banned in several districts across the US. Most recently, at a Tennessee school district, board members said that the vulgarity and nudity featured in the book is not age-appropriate for the eighth-grade curriculum. 

On January 10th, 2022, McMinn County School Board held a meeting in which they unanimously banned Maus. “Being in the schools, as educators, we don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff,” said Tony Allman, a member of the board. “It shows people hanging, it shows killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy.” 

Similarly, Beloved is a Pulitzer-winning book about a family of former slaves whose home is haunted by the child who was killed by the mother so he wouldn’t experience slavery. Mackey read Beloved in school and says that though the subject matter may be upsetting, it offers a vital perspective on US racial history. “It’s crucial that readers of the book engage with these conversations and understand the impossible situation that the main character, based on a real-life formerly enslaved woman, was put in,” she added. “It should be accounted among the quintessential classics of American literature.”

Churchill said that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Moreover, schools should be required to properly teach students history, not a utopic version or a censored one. Schools shouldn’t choose what historical events are child-appropriate enough to be instructed. The reality is that “when truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie” (Yevgeny Yevtushenko). Teachers and parents can’t purposely hide history out of fear of how it could affect students. This knowledge helps them further understand the world around them. Depriving students of a complete education that talks about the realities of our society, especially the complicated and taboo subjects, engenders ignorant citizens. Understanding history is critical to being civically active citizens. If not taught appropriately, students are more prone to become less inclusive and express themselves through discriminatory actions. It is counterintuitive to ban books and censor the academic curriculum. The purpose is to protect children, but these restrictive actions may have harmful repercussions.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s