Celebrating Banned Books Week, Collegian staff write about their favorite banned books.
This past week was the highly popular Banned Books Week. The theme from this year’s celebration was “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Banned Book Week exists as a celebration to highlight books that have otherwise been banned or challenged for their content. The most prevalent topics that typically cause books to be banned are “sexually explicit content,” “racist content,” “LGBTQIA+ content” and “political viewpoints.” This year, the most common theme on the list is “anti-police message.”
For the past two years, “George” by Alex Gino has reigned as the most challenged book; however, it has held its place on the list for the last five years. “George” tells the story of a young girl as she struggles to be herself to the rest of the world. This children’s novel is banned for “explicit LGBTQ+ content.”
The complete list for the most challenged books of 2020 is as follows “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.
As a part of the Banned Books Week celebration, the Collegian staff has decided to write a bit about their favorite banned/challenged book.
Maddie: The book I’ve chosen to talk about is “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. This novel tells the story of a young girl named Pecola Breedlove who nightly prays for God to turn her eyes blue, so she’ll look like Shirley Temple. In the autumn of 1941, Pecola’s life drastically changes in the worst ways possible. The novel hauntingly depicts the fear and loneliness of a young girl who just wants to be loved. “The Bluest Eye” was Toni Morrison’s first novel. This novel hasn’t made the top ten list in over three years. It’s interesting to see that the novel made the list the year she passed away. The novel is banned for “explicit sexual content.”
“The Bluest Eye” is an important book in American literature because it depicts the damaging effects beauty standards can have on children, specifically how internalized white beauty standards can warp the perceptions of black women and girls. Toni Morrison famously says it best when she says, “I wrote a book I wanted to read.” Published in 1970, “The Bluest Eye” was groundbreaking for African-American representation as the protagonist of the story is a young Black girl.
While Harper Lee’s 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” exists in my mind as the culmination of a frankly boring and unpleasant sophomore English course, the idea of banning it emerging from perceived cultural dangers instead of roasting the way it was taught seems deeply hypocritical. Although Lee utilizes slurs and harmful characterization, specifically through how characters react to people of color, the tone of the work indicates these literary choices were made with period accuracy in mind. Considering the text was published shortly after nine African-American students were blocked from entering a high school in Little Rock and drew on the kangaroo court cases such as the Scottsboro Boys, the calls to remove it from libraries and class reading for it being too out there reveals an inherent misunderstanding of the work’s purpose.
One criticism I hadn’t seen before was the portrayal of Atticus Finch as fulfilling the trope of a white savior. However, the key component of a white savior is the proposed savior using a minority for their own advantage. In TKaM, there’s very little to indicate Atticus is gaining anything other than his own peace of mind. He’s already carved a niche into their southern society as a respected attorney and man’s man, but something inside of him disagrees with how Tom was treated. The sad part of TKaM, and why most of my classmates dislike it, was how nothing really changes. There’s no triumphant verdict or appeal process or daring prison break; an African-American who did nothing wrong was deemed guilty by a racist jury and shot in an apparent escape attempt. If anything, the book should be taught more, especially as challenges emerge due to the sheer unbelievable but extraordinarily accurate nature of the text. It encourages honest and open discussion without any inflammatory designs, and that’s an indication of a book worth studying.
Zach: For my banned selection, I would implore everyone to read “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway. Written at the intersection of autobiography and daydreaming, the novel gives an apt glimpse into the minds of many of those writing as part of the Lost Generation. Hemingway describes his protagonist as an ambulance driver in World War I who receives an injury in his efforts, all of which the author himself genuinely endured. After that, the story veers more into fiction as the protagonist begins to court one of the nurses attending him and the plot becomes increasingly focused on creating an idealized escape from the horrors of war. The end, however, corrects this in providing a sadder dose of reality.
Famously banned in the city of Boston for “pornographic content,” the novel provides insight into the realities faced in the supposed war to end all wars. The plot comes through in three distinct parts: the description of life on the front, the main story of the courting in recuperation and the final attempt by the two lovers at an escape from all the horrors of the conflict. Importantly, the alleged risqué nature of the text that prompted its banning appears extremely mild through a modern lens, forcing readers today into understanding the great paradox of censorship and how our standards change over time. The simplistic prose of the piece makes it to this day the rawest emotional experience I have ever felt from a book and ensures its place in my own heart. If there were ever an underrated banned book today, I would argue this is the one.
Piper: Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” is one of the most famously banned books in the world, having stoked controversy almost immediately after its 1988 publication. The novel is filled with enchanting prose and magical realism, but has prompted criticism for its apparently blasphemous treatment of the story of the Prophet. For example, a character whose life parallels Muhammad’s, Mahound, recieves a vision that ends up being from the devil; prostitutes in a brothel also take on the name of Muhammad’s wives. The Indian-born British author wrote “The Satanic Verses” following the critical acclaim of “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which was awarded the Booker Prize.
The same year “The Satanic Verses” was published, the Indian government banned the book without any judicial process; instead, it was banned by the finance ministry, which prevented it from being imported. Rushdie’s controversial use of satire to retell the life of the Prophet prompted Iran’s Ayatollah Kheomeini to issue a fatwa against the author the year following its publication. A fatwa is a formal ruling in Islamic law. The Ayatollah’s fatwa encouraged Muslims to kill Rushdie, prompting the author to go into hiding for several years. During this time, the book was banned and prompted sometimes violent demonstrations around the world.