The first time I learned of banned books I was a sophomore in high school and thought my teacher was joking. There could not be such thing as a “banned book,” could there? In that class we learned of many classics that were banned for one reason or another; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, for the use of language and sexuality; The Awakening, originally by Kate Chopin, for being too “disturbing; and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston for its sexual explicitness. All of these books, written by women, were written before the 1990’s. However, banning books isn’t a thing of the past. Each year new books are challenged and banned.
This week, September 25-October 1, recognizes the books that have been banned over the years. Many of these books have the commonality of exploration of sexuality being too sensitive for young readers. A book called, Our Bodies Our Selves, written “by women for women” in 1971 was banned from many high schools for promoting promiscuity and homosexuality, because the book explores topics such as masturbation, gender identity, menopause and birth control. Critics have gone as far to say this women’s wellness text book was downright pornographic. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was published in 1999. The story is narrated by a young woman dealing with a recent rape as a freshman in high school. The book was banned in some Missouri schools for promoting pre-marital sex and promiscuity.
These more recent bannings share a commonalty with those that I learned about in high school. Many of them are said to either celebrate sexuality. Now there are plenty of books banned for other reasons but one does find this common thread linking all of these books together. They challenge the moral standing of a society, what books are banned shows what that society values.
The Awakening was banned directly after its publication in 1899 for being disturbing. The topic of the book was so outrageous and offended the critics so fiercely that this book was not allowed back into distribution for decades after its release. What was this book about that was so threatening to the society of 1899? The Awakening is about a young girl exploring what she wants out of life. The problem that so many had with the book, though, was that she was exploring what she wanted outside of being a wife and a mother. In the 1890’s that was an incredulous thought; that a woman could choose anything other than being a wife and a mother.
What books are banned and why allows people to really understand the values and beliefs of a country, a state, or a school system. Banning Books is still happening (Harry Potter was banned in some places!) and they will continue to happen. It’s up to us to read them anyway. To explore and experience what these books have to say. Reading these titles helps us understand what is so threatening to certain groups of people so we can attempt to understand both the allegedly threatening topic and the audience.
For more information on Banned Books Week, go to www.bannedbooksweek.org.
Written by Nicole Brobston