Reading books is a great joy—it’s an accessible way to explore new worlds and gain knowledge and understanding. For many of us, the hours spent with a book are some of the most pleasurable experiences we will ever have, even when we play online roulette. Literature provides a level of enrichment that often reaches beyond what we can get from other media, and provides a unique opportunity to embrace the human experience in all its complexity.
Some books can be controversial and can even be subject to bans. These restrictions can be a source of frustration for readers, yet still offer an exciting opportunity to challenge the censorship and gain access to outlawed material.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been a long-standing title on banned book lists. It is a powerful and simple story about innocence, racism, and equality, yet it regularly appears on banned book lists based on numerous grounds including its language, racism, and mature content. To Kill a Mockingbird, set in 1930s Alabama, follows the lives of Scout, Jem, and their father Atticus Finch, as they encounter prejudice and injustice in the deeply race-conscious environment of their small town.
The novel has been challenged most often for its dehumanizing language and racial slurs. However, readers have noted that Lee was writing the words of a racist character to criticize the derogatory language, rather than to endorse it. In addition, the book’s handling of mature ideas like rape and racial inequality has caused it to be challenged and banned for being age-inappropriately explicit, even though Lee’s timeless themes and masterful writing make it a suitable read for any age.
The greatness of To Kill a Mockingbird lies in the fact that its depth and power, and its message on prejudice, still resonate with readers in the 21st century. This is why it is one of the most frequently read and required texts in high school and college literature classes, and why it continues to be challenged, despite its powerful and timeless message.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is one of the most widely read works of American literature. Published in 1951, this controversial bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) follows the story of Holden Caulfield, a teenage misfit who rails against conformity and the superficiality of adult life. With its frank portrayal of sensitive topics and anti-authority stance, the novel controversies since its release, and is one of the most frequently challenged, censored and banned books in the United States.
Those who advocate banning the novel point to its often foul language, mature themes, and its critical view of adult society and institutions. Many public schools and libraries have at one time or another sought to restrict access to The Catcher in the Rye, as has been brought to court numerous times to challenge undemocratic censorship.
Despite the challenges, Salinger’s work remains an integral part of American literary culture. It often appears at the top of banned book lists, but remains widely read by its loyal fans who continue to appreciate its honest depiction of teenage life and its refusal to offer any easy answers or safe solutions.