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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"Censorship - Banning Books." 123HelpMe.com. 23 Jun 2018
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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. "...like 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.

http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/People/spok/most-banned.html

www.onlinebooks.library.upenn.du/banned-books.html


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