18 February 2011
Untitled For Now!
Judy Blume, a popular American novelist, has had her fair share of scuffles with livid librarians and parents; her books are banned more than any other author’s (“Banned Books Week,” par. 7). One of the most ridiculous criticisms of her books was from a mother who demanded that Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing be taken out of the school library because the novel included a short scene with a dead turtle (Whelan, par. 15). The mother continued her argument by saying that “reptiles have feelings” and “feel fear” (par. 15). Though the mother’s claim is absolutely ridiculous, people like her make strange protests against books daily. In fact, many of those protests are against beloved classics, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, and quite ironically, Fahrenheit 451, a novel that denounces the censorship of literature (par. 8). The censoring process begins with a challenge- worried parents, for example, might express concern over a controversial title their child is asked to read for school. If the challenge succeeds, the book is banned from the curriculum (“Banned Books Week,” par. 4). Frequently-challenged author Kurt Vonnegut once declared this procedure “ignorant, harsh,” and “un-American,” (Vonnegut 480) and he is right. Book banning and censoring is unfair to young readers.
Many organizations, such as the American Library Association, keep lists of the most frequently banned books, and the contents are shockingly bizarre (“Banned Books Week,” par. 3). Most of the books on the lists are actually renowned classics that are usually taught in high school English classes (par. 1), such as Mark Twain’s novels and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. If novels such as these have been read and enjoyed for decades without any controversy, then why are these classics suddenly being targeted now? Parents are the ones to blame for this idiocy: One mother refused to let her child read Anne Frank’s insightful account of the Holocaust because the mother saw it as a “real downer” (par. 6). In Washoe County, Nevada, parents felt the need to ban all Shakespearean works from the schools due to Shakespeare’s use of “language and sexual innuendo” (par. 9). In recent years, book-banning and censoring has become more prevalent than ever before; news articles reporting new editions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that replace “nigger” with “slave” have sparked much controversy (“Twain Classics,” par. 9). While those in favor of book-banning believe the novel’s language promotes racism, that was surely not Mark Twain’s intention; the language of the book simply reflects the time period in which Huck Finn is set (par. 19). Anyone that has read The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin would also know that Huck Finn is certainly not prejudiced towards blacks, for Jim, a runaway slave, is one of Huck’s best friends despite the two’s opposing skin colors. Another book that has been denounced due to its “racist” vocabulary is Harper Lee’s beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Many parents argue that the book’s racial slurs will teach their children to speak coarsely (“Banned Books Week, par. 10”). These parents have obviously missed the point of the novel- those who actually read To Kill a Mockingbird should know that it protests against the prejudice that went on in the early nineteen-hundreds (par. 10). Maybe if these parents actually bothered to read the books, rather than skimming their contents and weeding out the curse words, they would find that a great portion of the novels these adults challenge “beg that people be kinder and more responsible” (Vonnegut 480). After all, “literature’s best, most important books are believable and compelling because they do contain material that readers may find troubling” (Staples, par. 12). In short, when classics are banned from classrooms and school libraries, children are denied some of the greatest literature ever written.
Many book-challengers believe that a novel featuring a couple of swear words will encourage children to add “hells” and “damns” to their everyday language; book-banners also imagine that a rebellious protagonist will influence their child’s behavior- and not in a good way (Staples, par. 11). Some publishers are also beginning to feel the same way- many of them reject manuscripts that contain offensive language or tough subjects, such as violence, homosexuality, and witchcraft (par. 8). Librarians too have caught on to the silly paranoia, for seventy percent of media specialists in a survey conducted by the School Library Journal magazine say they will not buy controversial titles or novels featuring any sort of profanity (Whelan, par. 13). Their reasons range from fear of backlash from the community, the school administration, and parents to “personal objections” (par. 13). Maybe these adults do not remember what it was like to be a child; many of the offensive words found in books can just as easily be found scribbled on a bathroom stall wall, and many of the tough subjects discussed in novels, such as sexuality and drugs, are routinely discussed by teenagers in school hallways. Librarians and parents both need to realize that authors only include rough topics and words in their stories to create an accurate picture of the world children will soon have to face. For example, author J. D. Salinger did not add swear words to his commonly-banned classic, The Catcher in the Rye, to instill profane vocabulary words in his young readers; Salinger only added such words to create an adequate portrayal of the troubles many adolescents face. The same is true of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, also a common name on the American Library Association’s banned-book list. Though his novel includes explicit violence and sexuality, he merely uses these images to help depict World War II’s brutality (Vonnegut 480). Novels such as these certainly do not cause make rebels out of children or corrupt their minds; instead, these classics expose their readers to real life situations, helping the readers learn who they are and where they fit into the world (Staples, par. 1). Slapping a movie-rating sticker on a controversial book and blacking out offensive phrases, however, will certainly not do young people any favors, but many schools practice censoring methods anyways (Whelan, par. 19). For instance, one school in Florida places bright pink slips in frequently-challenged books to warn parents to check the book before their child reads it (Staples, par. 9). Even worse, some parents simply slip the books they disagree with off library shelves (Staples, par. 6). Though the parents believe they are protecting the younger generation from corruption, they are only stunting their children’s education and growth as a person. Young readers are smart enough to understand complex and controversial subjects, so they should be allowed to read about them (“Banned Books Week, par. 1”).
While book-banning and censoring affects the readers of the books, no one is affected more than the authors whose novels are challenged. Much like the young readers who are denied the literature they want to read, authors whose books are banned feel “angered and sickened and saddened” (Vonnegut 480). Perhaps no one knows this feeling better than famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury. In the Coda at the end of his renowned novel, Fahrenheit 451, he adds to his book’s theme of censorship with a letter to his “book-burners” (Bradbury 175). Bradbury says “if Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters (178). In other words, if a certain group of people or parents dislike a particular novel, they should not prohibit other people from reading it. Sure, it is understandable if a parent does not want to let his or her child read a book whose message they disagree with, but disallowing an entire student body or community to enjoy a novel just because one parent squirms at a single swear word is simply unreasonable. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed (qtd. in “Banned Books Week, par 1”).
"Banned Books Week Supports First Amendment Rights." Book Banning. Ed. Ronnie D. Lankford. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 3 Feb. 2011.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrehheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979. Print.
Staples, Suzanne Fisher. “What Johnny Can’t Read: Censorship in American Libraries.” The Alan Review. 23:2 (1996). Digital library and archives. 1 November 2005. Web. 3 February 2011.
"Twain classics to drop racial slur." Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] 5 Jan. 2011. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 3 Feb. 2011.
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Letter to Charles McCarthy, Drake School Board.” Palm Sunday. New York: Delecourt, 1981. 4-7. Rpt. In “A Letter to the Chairman of the Drake School Board.” The Well-Crafted Argument: A Guide and Reader. Eds. Fred D. White and Simone J. Billings. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 479-481. Print.
Whelan, Debra Lau. "Books Are Being Banned in the United States." Censorship. Ed. Byron L. Stay. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 3 Feb. 2011.