So often when I talk about Banned Books, people can’t believe that it is true. The reasoning, I often site, is religious, because of sexual content, because of homophobia. Today, I want to look at a couple books I love, ones that are classics, and that have been banned from time to time. I have highlighted the reasons in case you would prefer to skim.
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, TN school system (1989) because the novel contains “offensive language.” Challenged, but retained in the Champaign, IL high school English classes (1991) despite claims that “unsuitable language” makes it inappropriate. Challenged by the parent of a high school student in Troy, IL (1991) citing profanity and negative attitudes. Students were offered alternative assignments while the school board took the matter under advisement, but no further action was taken on the complaint. Challenged at the McDowell County, NC schools (1996) because of “graphic language.”
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
Since its publication, this title has been a favorite target of censors. In 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, OK was fired for assigning the book to an eleventh grade English class. The teacher appealed and was reinstated by the school board, but the book was removed from use in the school. In 1963, a delegation of parents of high school students in Columbus, OH, asked the school board to ban the novel for being “anti-white” and “obscene.” The school board refused the request. Removed from the Selinsgrove, PA suggested reading list (1975). Based on parents’ objections to the language and content of the book, the school board voted 5-4 to ban the book. The book was later reinstated in the curriculum when the board learned that the vote was illegal because they needed a two-thirds vote for removal of the text. Challenged as an assignment in an American literature class in Pittsgrove, NJ (1977). After months of controversy, the board ruled that the novel could be read in the Advanced Placement class, but they gave parents the right to decide whether or not their children would read it. Removed from the Issaquah, WA optional High School reading list (1978). Removed from the required reading list in Middleville, MI (1979). Removed from the Jackson Milton school libraries in North Jackson, OH (1980). Removed from two Anniston, AL High school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restrictive basis. Removed from the school libraries in Morris, Manitoba (1982) along with two other books because they violate the committee’s guidelines covering “excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence, and anything dealing with the occult.” Challenged at the Libby, MT High School (1983) due to the “book’s contents.” Banned from English classes at the Freeport High School in De Funiak Springs, FL (1985) because it is “unacceptable” and “obscene.” Removed from the required reading list of a Medicine Bow, WY Senior High School English class (1986) because of sexual references and profanity in the book. Banned from a required sophomore English reading list at the Napoleon, ND High School (1987) after parents and the local Knights of Columbus chapter complained about its profanity and sexual references. Challenged at the Linton-Stockton, IN High School (1988) because the book is “blasphemous and undermines morality.” Banned from the classrooms in Boron, CA High School (1989) because the book contains profanity. Challenged at the Grayslake, IL Community High School (1991). Challenged at the Jamaica High School in Sidell, IL (1992) because the book contains profanities and depicts premarital sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution. Challenged in the Waterloo, IA schools (1992) and Duval County, FL public school libraries (1992) because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, a nd statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled. Challenged at the Cumberland Valley High School in Carlisle, PA (1992) because of a parent’s objections that it contains profanity and is immoral. Challenged, but retained, at the New Richmond, WI High School (1994) for use in some English classes. Challenged as required reading in the Corona Norco, CA Unified School District (1993) because it is “centered around negative activity.” The book was retained and teachers selected alternatives if students object to Salinger’s novel. Challenged as mandatory reading in the Goffstown, NH schools (1994) because of the vulgar words used and the sexual exploits experienced in the book. Challenged at the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, FL (1995). Challenged at the Oxford Hills High School in Paris, ME (1996). A parent objected to the use of the ‘F’ word. Challenged, but retained, at the Glynn Academy High School in Brunswick, GA (1997). A student objected to the novel’s profanity and sexual references. Removed because of profanity and sexual situations from the required reading curriculum of the Marysville, CA Joint Unified School District (1997). The school superintendent removed it to get it “out of the way so that we didn’t have that polarization over a book.” Challenged, but retained on the shelves of Limestone County, AL school district (2000) despite objections about the book’s foul language. Banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, GA (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was part of an Advanced Placement English class. Removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC (2001) because it “is a filthy, filthy book.” Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) school board member because of profanity. The novel was retained. Challenged in the Big Sky High School in Missoula, MT (2009).
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, NY Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, MO (1939). Banned in Kern County CA, the scene of Steinbeck’s novel (1939). Banned in Ireland (1953). On Feb. 21, 1973, eleven Turkish book publishers went on trial before an Istanbul martial law tribunal on charges of publishing, possessing and selling books in violation of an order of the Istanbul martial law command. They faced possible sentences of between one month’s and six months’ imprisonment “for spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state” and the confiscation of their books. Eight booksellers were also on trial with the publishers on the same charge involving The Grapes of Wrath. Banned in Kanawha, IA High School classes (1980). Challenged in Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980). Challenged as required reading for Richford, VT (1981) High School English students due to the book’s language and portrayal of a former minister who recounts how he took advantage of a young woman. Banned in Morris, Manitoba, Canada (1982). Removed from two Anniston, Ala. high school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restrictive basis. Challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, NC (1986) as an optional reading assignment because the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.” Although the parent spoke to the press, a formal complaint with the school demanding the book’s removal was not filed. Challenged at the Moore County school system in Carthage, NC (1986) because the book contains the phase “God damn.” Challenged in the Greenville, SC schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.” Challenged in the Union City, TN High School classes (1993).
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Challenged in Eden Valley, MN (1977) and temporarily banned due to words “damn” and “whore lady” used in the novel. Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy novel.” Challenged at the Warren, IN Township schools (1981) because the book does “psychological damage to the positive integration process” and “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” After unsuccessfully trying to ban Lee’s novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council. Challenged in the Waukegan, IL School District (1984) because the novel uses the word “nigger.” Challenged in the Kansas City, MO junior high schools (1985). Challenged at the Park Hill, MO Junior High School (1985) because the novel “contains profanity and racial slurs.” Retained on a supplemental eighth grade reading list in the Casa Grande, AZ Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use. Challenged at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools (1995) because of its racial themes. Removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA (1995) because the book’s language and content were objectionable. Challenged at the Moss Point, MS School District (1996) because the novel contains a racial epithet. Banned from the Lindale, TX advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.” Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) School Board member because of profanity. The novel was retained. Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, OK High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text. Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High School’s sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans. Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, NC (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “nigger.” Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.” The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.” Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, NJ Board of Education (2007). A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression. The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it. Removed (2009) from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word “nigger.”
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA High School honors class (1984) due to the work’s “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.” After nine months of haggling and delays, a divided Oakland Board of Education gave formal approval for the book’s use. Rejected for purchase by the Hayward, CA school’s trustee (1985) because of “rough language” and “explicit sex scenes.” Removed from the open shelves of the Newport News, VA school library (1986) because of its “profanity and sexual references” and placed in a special section accessible only to students over the age of 18 or who have written permission from a parent. Challenged at the public libraries of Saginaw, MI (1989) because it was “too sexually graphic for a 12-year-old.” Challenged as a summer youth program reading assignment in Chattanooga, TN (1989) because of its language and “explicitness.” Challenged as an optional reading assigned in Ten Sleep, WY schools (1990). Challenged as a reading assignment at the New Burn, NC High School (1992) because the main character is raped by her stepfather. Banned in the Souderton, PA Area School District (1992) as appropriate reading for 10th graders because it is “smut.” Challenged on the curricular reading list at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, CT (1995) because sexually explicit passages aren’t appropriate high school reading. Retained as an English course reading assignment in the Junction City, OR high school (1995) after a challenge to Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel caused months of controversy. Although an alternative assignment was available, the book was challenged due to “inappropriate language, graphic sexual scenes, and book’s negative image of black men.” Challenged at the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, FL (1995). Retained on the Round Rock, TX Independent High School reading list (1996) after a challenge that the book was too violent. Challenged, but retained, as part of the reading list for Advanced Placement English classes at Northwest High Schools in High Point, NC (1996). The book was challenged because it is “sexually graphic and violent.” Removed from the Jackson County, WV school libraries (1997) along with sixteen other titles. Challenged, but retained as part of a supplemental reading list at the Shawnee School in Lima, OH (1999). Several parents described its content as vulgar and “X-rated.” Removed from the Ferguson High School library in Newport News, VA (1999). Students may request and borrow the book with parental approval. Challenged, along with seventeen other titles in the Fairfax County, VA elementary and secondary libraries (2002), by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools. The group contends the books “contain profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.” Challenged in Burke County (2008) schools in Morgantown, NC by parents concerned about the homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the book.
1984, by George Orwell
Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell’s novel is “pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.”
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Banned as obscene in France (1956-1959), in England (1955-59), in Argentina (1959), and in New Zealand (1960). The South African Directorate of Publications announced on November 27, 1982, that Lolita has been taken off the banned list, eight years after a request for permission to market the novel in paperback had been refused. Challenged at the Marion-Levy Public Library System in Ocala, FL (2006). The Marion County commissioners voted to have the county attorney review the novel that addresses the themes of pedophilia and incest, to determine if it meets the state law’s definition of “unsuitable for minors.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
Challenged in the Greeley, CO public school district (1971) as a non-required American Culture reading. In 1974, five residents of Strongsville, OH, sued the board of education to remove the novel. Labeling it “pornographic,” they charged the novel “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.” Removed from public school libraries in Randolph, NY, and Alton, OK (1975). Removed from the required reading list in Westport, MA (1977). Banned from the St. Anthony, ID Freemont High School classrooms (1978) and the instructor fired. The teacher sued. A decision in the case—Fogarty v. Atchley—was never published. Challenged at the Merrimack, NH High School (1982). Challenged as part of the curriculum in an Aberdeen, WA High School honors English class (1986) because the book promotes “secular humanism.” The school board voted to retain the title. Challenged at the Placentia-Yorba Linda, CA Unified School District (2000) after complaints by parents stated that teachers “can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again.”
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
Declared non-mailable by the U.S. Post Office (1940). On Feb. 21, 1973, eleven Turkish book publishers went on trial before an Istanbul martial law tribunal on charges of publishing, possessing, and selling books in violation of an order of the Istanbul martial law command. They faced possible sentences of between one month’s and six months’ imprisonment “for spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state” and the confiscation of their books. Eight booksellers also were on trial with the publishers on the same charge involving For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
Alabama Representative Gerald Allen (R-Cottondale) proposed legislation that would prohibit the use of public funds for the “purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.” The bill also proposed that novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed. The bill would impact all Alabama school, public, and university libraries. While it would ban books like Heather Has Two Mommies, it could also include classic and popular novels with gay characters such as Brideshead Revisited, The Color Purple or The Picture of Dorian Gray (2005).
For more examples, please visit the American Library Association.