Book Censorship Essay

Censorship - Banning Books

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Literature has long been an important part of human life. We express our feelings with ink and paper; we spill out our souls on dried wood pulp. Writing has been form of release and enjoyment since the beginning of written language. You can tell a story, make yourself a hero. You can live out all your fantasies. You can explore all of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and share them with the outside world. But just because you can write, don't think you are uninhibited!


      It doesn't matter who you are. If you write a book, paper, or other work of choice, somebody is going to contest you. Some one isn't going to like what you have to say, and they will try to cause a stir. Don't try to deal with issues of racism, sexism, murder, sexuality, etc. That will only get you banned, barred, or burned. Controversy is a trigger for argument, so if you write about something controversial, people will have something to say about it. It doesn't matter whom the book was written for, about, or by. For example, you can't write about racism in America. We don't have any of THAT, do we!?


I remember well my ex-boyfriend reading Of Mice and Men.  It was required reading for his Senior English class. However, in the 1990's, this book was challenged and banned in many schools across the country. The book deals with a mentally challenged man who kills some one, and, in the end, is killed himself by his "best friend." And don't think the language was overlooked!


All kids love the "Harry Potter" series. But they don't know that by reading it they are "indulging in sinful and Godless acts" or that these books are putting them on the fastest train to Hell. I own A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelfth Night, and Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, all of which have been or are banned. What's going on here?


      The most frequently challenged and/or banned books in 2001 were:


?        The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, for its focus on wizardry and magic.

?        Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, for using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

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?        The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (the "Most Challenged" fiction book of 1998), for using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

?        I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, for sexual content, racism, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group.

?        Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene for racism, offensive language and being sexually explicit.

?        The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

?        Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for being sexually explicit, using offensive

      language and being unsuited to age group.

?        Go Ask Alice by Anonymous for being sexually explicit, for offensive language and drug use.

?        Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, for offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

?        Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause for being sexually explicit and unsuited to age group. (American Library Association)

Is there anything suited to the "age group?"


Some of these books may seem justifiably banned. But isn't it an infringement of ones freedom of speech? I decided to take a look at a few of the books I found that were banned and find out why. The first of these was Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. I have never actually read the book before (or seen the movie which made it famous, by Stanley Kubrick), so I am only skimming over some of the details here. This book is very difficult to even understand unless you can comprehend the slang that is used. The back cover of the book reads, "A vivacious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his an his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"(Eric Stevenson) Sounds odd, right? I don't know what a droog is, but I do know the concept of predicting the future in literature is vastly popular (I know everyone has read Orwell's 1984). By using this format, one can express fantasies, dreams, fears, and hopes. However, there are always the critics who try to shoot down the ideas. Extremity and lack of credibility are two reasons often used to dismiss a "preminitionary" work.


In the movie version, one of the first scenes that one would see is Alex and his pals breaking into a man's house and raping his wife, or daughter ( I'm not sure exactly who she is) while they hold him down and make him watch. Now, you're thinking, "Why would anyone want to read this?" Like I said, the preminitionary approach can often be used to express one's fears about the future. Perhaps Burgess was only trying to use this "vivid" example in order to shock the reader into paying attention to what's going on around them. This outlook on the future is certainly an eye opener. Because of the graphic nature and description of some of the incidents accounted in this novel, it is somewhat understandable that it could be controversial. However, I do not condone censorship of literature. The shock factor of this novel is slightly buffered by the incomprehensible slang used to portray the rough English scenery. I personally like the way the book is written, although some of it is less than digestible.


Skipping back in time, we come across a novel by the infamous David Herbert Lawrence: Lady Chatterley's Lover. This book was written in 1928, just before he died. The book was banned, and the unexpurgated version was not allowed in legal circulation in Britain until 1960 (Durrell), some 30 years after Lawrence's death. The tome was branded as pornographic. Early on in the book, it talks about two young girls giving themselves to men, outside of love and outside of wedlock. Back in the day, this was almost as taboo as one could get. It was a sin to talk about, and it was an even more fiery subject to put into ink. The idea of a woman, especially a married woman and moreover a married woman of nobility, was risqué to the point of being almost blasphemous


The final chapters of the tale become somewhat vulgar (by 1929 standards) and the f-word is used several times. " the peace of f@ck!ng. We f@ck$d a flame into being. Even the flowers are f@ck$d...So I love chastity now, because it is the peace that comes of f@ck!ng...then we can f@ck the little flame brilliant and yellow..." I think you get the picture. The book goes into explicit detail about the sexual encounters between Chatterley and her lover. It describes pretty much everything that happens between them in their ongoing rendezvous', with Playboy-like accuracy and depiction.


But this manuscript is a classic, right? Now, I wouldn't exactly recommend it for a high school freshman English class. But I do think it deserves credit as being a great novel, even if the content about which is being so elaborately delineated is something that could serve as the plot for the next movie of the month on the Spice Channel. All great literature has a hook to it. Lady Chatterley's Lover's just happens to be that it is very sexual in nature. It's kind of like Harlequin Romance Novels, before Harlequin.


Lawrence was the victim of childhood abuse (probably sexual), or so it would seem from the introduction to my copy. This is most likely the basis of his novel, Sons and Lovers. (Durrell) (This could not be expressed precisely in the novel, however, because incest and sexual abuse were hush-hush topics that you DID NOT discuss, {whether it was happening or not!})


I, for one, like Lawrence's approach to the novel. It's smooth and fluid, so much so that you almost forget that you are reading something that sounds like it could be the script to the next episode of Jerry Springer. He makes it believable. Let's be honest. Women and men have been cheating on their spouses since the advent of the marriage; it's just that nobody talked about it. It wasn't dirty laundry that was aired. It was overlooked and forgotten as a minor complication of the whole union. However, it was more "acceptable" for a man than a woman to engage in such an act. This would explain why L.C.L. was so choked upon. For the very closed-minded, it was/is probably very easy to write it off as sophisticated verbal pornography, but these are also the people who likely couldn't see the sun at noon-time, if you know what I mean.


The final book I looked at was the aforementioned Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. I believe, if memory serves, the basis for barring of this book was language and being inappropriate for age group. I actually read this one (on my own) and thought it was wonderful. Whenever someone can successfully pull off dialect in a novel, it is a trigger for me: I get hooked, because so few people can do it. Despite some of the words used in the book, I still think it is a wonderful piece of fiction (I am a Steinbeck fan).


 Going through the book, I counted numerous "offensive" words. Here's the breakdown: The word hell (in the cursing, non-Biblical way) was used about 59 times. In the work, which has 107 pages, this is an average of around once every 1.81 pages. Damn was used 28 times, the "n" word (racial slur), 12 times, bastard 14 times, God (in vain) 15, Jesus (also in vain) 22, s-o-b, 9, bitch, 4, and my least favorite G.D. (rhymes with mod ham) was used 20 times. This is the only thing I really have a problem with. Well, that and the "n" word. They aren't a part of my vocabulary, and I was raised to find this extremely disrespectful. Other than these minor flaws, I find the opuscule fascinating and enjoyable.


So what's the whole point of this rather lengthy account of opinionated drivel? I think that literature should speak for itself, even if the language in which it is written is considerably inexplicable (consider A Clockwork Orange). No one has to explain their reasoning behind publishing a certain piece of work. And who are we to ask for an explanation? A person's reasons for writing anything are solely their own, and, if for no other reason than personal gratification, that is more than enough. We cannot begin to explain what Lawrence was feeling when he wrote Chatterley, or where Burgess' grim account of the future in Orange is rooted. Is it genius, is it insanity? Is it offensive, or is it the definition of an age, an era? It is not our place to know.


All we can do is enjoy these treasures while we are able, and this probably means being less critical and more open minded about what we are reading. We, as a people, need to stop focusing on what the words say, and concentrate more on what they mean. We are always looking for purpose where there isn't always purpose to be found. Yet, when it comes to artistry and creativity, we often close the doors of the mind in lieu of mental gratification. We want to believe that we have everything figured out and that there is a specific purpose and meaning for everything. This isn't so. In the grand scheme of things, we know absolutely nothing. Not enough emphasis is put on creative freedom and free reign over ones thoughts. This is why I believe there hasn't been a truly great novel written since the early 20th century.


Works Cited

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.

Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley's Lover. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.

Lawrence, D. H. Sons and Lovers. New York: Penguin Books, 1977

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin Books, 1965.


For the fourth year in a row, the Chinook Bookshop and The Colorado Springs Independent have teamed up to sponsor the Banned Books Week Essay Contest. Junior high school students were asked to write about "What 'Freedom to Read' means to me" and high school students addressed the topic "What do you think about banning books in a high school library?" And once again, the entries were impressive.

The essays were screened and judged by a panel including: the Chinook staff; Kathy Glassman, president of CSEA; Susan Rottman, local author and teacher; and Independent editor Kathryn Eastburn.

Our thanks to the teachers who encouraged their students to participate and to all students who submitted essays. Winners will be honored at a 5:30 p.m. reception on Friday, Oct. 27, at Chinook. The public is invited.


Junior High School Winners

First Place Brandon Redlinger, Grade 8

Eagleview Middle School

"We don't have to agree with what we read, but we should learn from it."

The freedom to read means we shouldn't allow censorship or book banning due to subject matter, language usage or violent situations. To prevent children from knowing about the world and human nature is unrealistic. "Children are not innocent. They are just inexperienced," said Judy Blume, a veteran of censorship wars. Shielding children from the cruel reality of the world doesn't do them any favors. Instead of shielding children, parents can offer a perspective from personal experiences and help children interpret the world, its realities and flaws. Children, with guidance from parents, should be able to make decisions about what they read and believe. Parents need to take the responsibility, deciding what is appropriate or inappropriate for their children. We shouldn't sacrifice our First Amendment rights to censors just to be protected from what other people consider right and wrong.

The determination about which books should be restricted from children depends on their level of maturity. A person less mature might misinterpret the meaning of subject matter resulting in inappropriate thoughts, beliefs or behavior. Conversely, a person who is mature enough to comprehend what the author is implying will understand the message being emphasized. Again, parents' supervision is indicated, not banning.

Reading is one of our greatest freedoms. Censorship leads to conformity. This limits the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our culture depends. Creativity, research, and technological advances would be limited. Democracy's responsibility is to make available a diversity of views, popular and unpopular. It's not right to coerce the thought of some and inhibit the efforts of others. All community members should have equal access to the entire range of written resources. Publishers' responsibilities are to give the full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of expression. The freedom to read is of little consequence unless the reader can obtain material to suit his purpose.

Libraries should be allowed to provide information presenting contrasting viewpoints on historical issues. History teaches students the events that shaped the world. Materials shouldn't be removed because of differing partisan or doctrinal views. A person's right to use a library for research should not be denied because of parents' conflicting views either. We don't have to agree with what we read, but we should learn from it.

The First Amendment guarantees our freedom to decide what we choose to read and think. Though someone may be convinced his views are right, that individual is not entitled to impose them on others.

Second Place Grady Castle, Grade 8

Eagleview Middle School

"Controversial writing ... keeps our minds alive."

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its shame." -- Oscar Wilde.

When books are banned, it illustrates a refusal of the censors to look at the world with open eyes; to close their eyes like they closed the banned book. Banning books divulges more about the censor than the book or the author brought into the limelight.

Freedom to read means that you are able to read freely without the possibility of being stopped because the material is inappropriate according to the challenger's belief system. If the challenger doesn't like the book, maybe he shouldn't read it or let his children read it. But banning books takes the books off the shelves, abolishing even the slightest chance that those condemned books might be able to be read at all. Banning for one bans for all.

"... I say let's get back to the good old First Amendment of the good old-fashioned United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge, or give me death!" -- Kurt Vonnegut

The Bill of Rights makes important changes to the Constitution set to establish rules for the United States of America. Obviously, the most important change would be made first. If the First Amendment states that it is okay to write as you wish, then I believe it's okay to write as you wish. And a corollary to that is it's okay to read what you want, too. Depriving others of the chance to read is an unjust thing to do. It doesn't matter if another doesn't want to read a book because the author said something that was offensive, but don't try to control another's value system by limiting their exposure to ideas.

If the privilege of writing something one believes in is taken away, then the privilege of believing has been taken away. Freedom to read is the freedom to read anything. I have read many books I wanted to read even though it was prohibited and that's the way I want it to always be.

I want it to always be this way because my interest jumps a notch when someone tells me a book's controversial. Controversial writing causes sparks and keeps our minds alive.

"Free societies ... are societies in motion, and with motion comes tension, dissent, friction. Free people strike sparks, and those sparks are the best evidence of freedom's existence." -- Salmon Rushdie

High School Winners

First Place Kendall Anderson, Grade 11

Manitou Springs High School

"Books that break the mold are what we need."

Stripping books that some people deem inappropriate from high school libraries underrates youthful intelligence, clouds history and dilutes our culture to fit a mold of conformity. Oftentimes books are quite literally judged by their covers. There is much more to most frequently challenged books than a controversial topic. What lies between the covers are breakthroughs in expression, timeless plots, and new perspectives for readers. Books that break the mold are what we need. High school libraries should foster open expression without limitations by censors.

The dull reaction and sarcastic tone Kurt Vonnegut takes when describing war and massacre cause his books to be challenged in several communities. Misunderstanding provokes this ridicule. Vonnegut uses the phrase "So it goes" to describe numerous senseless deaths in his book Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut doesn't mean to devalue the importance of life, but rather, he emphasizes with the repeated phrase the horrible reality of lives lost. By assuming that high school readers can't understand and appreciate this, censors misjudge student intelligence and swindle teens out of experiencing groundbreaking literature.

Rape is not a tasteful subject for anyone. However, a novel can deal with this delicate subject with more empathy than the evening news. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings confronts this touchy subject. Yet while rape may not be a comfortable topic, the problem is not alien to many young women. By pulling these books off shelves, censors close our eyes to the world around us. Such books can teach the confused or comfort the suffering. If ideas in books are too taboo for some readers, no one is forced to read them. Someone who thirsts for that information, however, shouldn't be deprived of the opportunity to find it.

In Mark Twain's novels, TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finn and TheAdventures of Tom Sawyer, many people confront uncomfortable language. These books offer the reader a peek into another time period when a different set of values reigned. We should be trying to reclaim the innocence of that era, not censoring the slang of the time. Censoring regional books such as these distorts history.

We should not underestimate our youth, disguise our culture, or sweep the past under the rug. A high school student can't be sheltered from what is true or from ideas that can change their lives. Everyone deserves an opportunity to be touched by literature. Censoring books in a high school library is not acceptable.

Second Place Annabell Woods, Grade 11

Manitou Springs High School

"Some believe they can hoodwink today's youth."

My generation, probably more aware of the world than our predecessors, faces challenges on all levels as capable adults, and we cannot allow ourselves to be swaddled when we are not infants. Censoring challenged books in high schools distorts constitutional freedom and robs young adults of potentially enriching literature. Some believe they can hoodwink today's youth. With some initiative and persistence, these people often succeed. While they preach purity, censors pervert and destroy many authors' ideas and stop our right to judge for ourselves what we can view.

As a child, the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Oz books by Frank L. Baum, and similar stories ignited my imagination with adventure and images of wizards, witches, and talking animals. The same reasons these stories stay alive and vivid in my memory are some of the same reasons that censors ban books today. When children today read the widely scrutinized Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, I am certain that Rowling's words excite them as Lewis's and Baum's words excited me.

I gravitate toward literature that depicts reality. TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, criticized for displaying disobedient behavior and racial slurs, accurately portray the author's era. The artful precision that acclaimed poet Maya Angelou paints her personal experiences in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is censored because it discusses rape. A Separate Peace by John Knowles let me peer into our world at a different time. These books open the minds of high school students, rather than pervert them.

Regardless of what I believe is appropriate, others have the freedom to judge differently. If I believe a work is unsuitable, I can choose not to read it. I can even one day restrict what my own children read. When I tell others that they cannot read something, I impose my own values on others. In forbidding others from reading a book I do not own or have any grounds to regulate, I rob them of their freedom and, more importantly, their desire to learn. Today, the boundaries of purity and pornography, art and anarchy are faintly drawn. We live in a gray world where light and shadows mingle, making it impossible for a few individuals to make universal judgements over all people. By judging issues for ourselves, we excel beyond false logic, ignorance, and an imposed idea of purity.

Honorable Mention

Phillip D. Dressen, Grade 12

Centennial High School, Pueblo

Regina Caputo, Grade 11

Centennial High School, Pueblo


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