This week is “Banned Book” week, where we take a look at some of the books that have been challenged most by societies all over the world. Spinebreaker Alannah discusses why these books are banned…
As the lives of 10 year old children go, mine was pretty unextraordinary. Happy? Sure. Fulfilling? Yeah. But essentially I was encased in primary education and barely reaching 4ft in height. I’d bake cakes with my Nan on Thursday afternoons, reluctantly stand in as goalie for the boy’s football team at break. Did I mention the healthy fixation I had of singing “ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, banana phone!” at 7:25am each morning?
What? It’s normal.
Moving on, I asked for a copy of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for my birthday that year and lo and behold, I got one. A few weeks later my Mum sat me down at the bottom of the stairs because she wanted to have “ a talk” with me.
I may have been 4ft2inches, but I was no mug. I knew what “a talk” meant.
I pre-eminently apologised for whatever it was that I had done and hitherto made my sister liable for any blame.
Anyway, I wasn’t in trouble. My mum just wanted to talk to me about some of the books that I had received for my birthday. In particular “Huckleberry Finn”. She explained how my Dad and herself were sort of hesitant about buying it for me, what with all the… well, racist references. But then she told me something; something that I still think of now: “I’d rather have you hear it from a story like this, where you know that the word is wrong, than hearing it somewhere else and thinking that it’s ok.”
Wise words, Mother.
And suddenly, my 10 year old life got so much more bad-ass. I was the girl who read books from the banned section of the library. Well, no. So no one really ever thought of me that way. Ever. And I didn’t get more rebellious than Harry Potter. But that’s not what I’m trying to get at here. What I’m trying to divulge with you is this…
“The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain has been banned in most libraries in the US and is being challenge increasingly by parents, both transatlantic and at home in Britain. The subject matter of Twain’s story and the “exploitation of prejudiced language” has rendered it from any Teen/YA fiction bookshelf in some state libraries and innumerable schools. “The Colour Purple” by Alice Walker has been grafted into this list of books too. The story tells of the vile mistreatment of a young black woman at the dawning of the 20th century throughout her life. Walker depicts incidents of molestation, incest and homosexuality. It has also been condoned for the racist language employed. The same can be said of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and “Of Mice and Men” to name really very few. Even books such as “The Diary of Anne Frank”, a hauntingly vivid depiction of the massacre of non-Aryans during WW2 has been questioned and removed form public accessibility. Don’t get those parents started on J. D. Salinger. Oh, no. “The Catcher In The Rye” certainly isn’t a hot favourite. And lock up your little ‘uns because exposing them so such works as “Harry Potter” will drive them to the worship of Beelzebub himself. They’ll be swapping basketball in the backyard to witchcraft in the basement.
Right. Now to set some things straight.
There is no way that I would give a book such as “A Clockwork Orange” to a child under 13. To read a book like that requires a certain degree of social maturity and understanding that most children will not yet have attained. I don’t condone that children should know these things, because eventually they will know. But kids should be kids. Again, I agree that children should not be exposed to “The Colour Purple” or any story line mirroring it. The authors obviously had a specific audience in mind when writing these books and often they were not projected toward young children. It is at their parents discretion that they read them. But does that mean that teenagers and young adults should be denied access to them? If they and their parents agree that they are mature enough to broach these subjects then the fact is that they are having their right to read taken away from them. Why should they have to sacrifice their learning curve, thus preventing them from learning about real life in the most positive and subtle way possible?
Taking a look at the link (that I will paste below the post), these works are undeniably valid works of literature. Some of my favourite books are on that list, like “Catch 22” and “Slaughterhouse 5”. Books of a political and relevant nature, such as George Orwell’s “1984” because of it’s ideas concerning sexuality, or purely well-written and conventionally challenging dystopians such as “The Hunger Games” are featured on the list.
I don’t know. All this censoring sounds a little totalitarian.
What the parents have correctly identified is that, yes, these books do contain themes of racial prejudice, incest and violence. But I’d like to digress. The author of “Of Mice and Men” employs these insults because he feels pity for the characters and anger at the injustice that they suffer in real life. Steinbeck wants his writing to evoke awareness in the readers. The same goes for “The Colour Purple”. George Orwell ridicules hypocritical convention of his time in “Animal Farm”. In fact, if they’d bother to understand the texts, parents and librarians would realise that the authors condone racism, stereotyping and molestation. They promote awareness of corrupt societies, genocides and ethnic minorities. In fact, these books are the best guides that an emerging adolescent has to understanding this crazy world.
In my opinion, to censor these books is to airbrush the reflections that these stories bear of society. It would be to forget the sexual degradation of women, racial persecutions, slavery, war and corrupt societies that have littered human history. It would destroy every microcosm, every shred of pity that readers had felt for book characters over the years.
And seriously? Harry Potter? Who in their right mind would put a book about a magical boy, his wizard friends and a man with no nose on the list?
Here is the link to the banned teen books section of the Skokie Public Library: http://www.skokie.lib.il.us/s_teens/tn_books/tn_booklists/banned.asp