Books are often banned or challenged because their critics read a novel’s content without any context. An off-the-cuff swear word could be used as ammunition for getting a book taken off the shelves, especially if the critics aren’t reading between the lines, and only looking at words. Ironically, the reason many books are banned is simply because the people behind the censorship have absolutely no idea what the story they’re reading is actually about. Check out this list of 10 books banned for the wrong reasons.
Golding’s infamous story about a group of children who, upon crashing onto a deserted island, slowly develop a microcosm that ultimately leads to death and destruction has been challenged time and again, for a variety of reasons. Most notably, it was challenged in a North Carolina high school for being “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.” Okay, so I guess these parents didn’t exactly misunderstand the book, but they certainly misunderstood that this is exactly what the reader is supposed to get out of reading the novel.
Published in 1951, Catcher in the Rye chronicles the adventures of teenage misanthrope Holden Caulfield. Critics have pointed to the vulgar language, sexual references, and situations with alcohol in their crusade to ban this book from library shelves and high school English classes since 1960. What they fail to realize is the story is told by Holden, not by Salinger. What did they expect a story told by a cynical teenager suffering from depression (to say the least) to contain? That it’s not made blatantly clear until the end of the novel that Holden is telling this story from the comfort of a mental institution makes you wonder if the critics even finished it, or were too busy counting how many times Caulfield drops the “f-bomb” to get around to it.
One of the most popular American novels also happens to be one of the most misunderstood stories of our time. The fact that the 2013 movie release spawned many “Gatsby-themed” parties throughout the country make it even more obvious that Fitzgerald’s intentions have gone unnoticed by the general population. Ironically, the degenerate actions of most of the characters within Gatsby have little to do with the reason the novel has been challenged since its publication in 1925. It was challenged in the 1980s by Baptist College in South Carolina, citing use of the words “d—,” “h—,” and “son-of-a-b—-,” as well as a couple of vague sexual innuendos. Honestly, if they wanted to ban the book that badly, there is a ton of material they could have used that would make much more sense.
Catch-22 is the story of a World War II soldier who desperately wants to leave the battlefield on grounds of insanity. However, he cannot since anyone who would want to leave the armed forces is obviously not insane, and therefore must fight. It’s a scathing commentary on the “heroics” of war, painting a picture that the purpose of war is to perpetuate the war itself. Seen as anti-patriotic, it was banned by an Ohio school district in 1972. However, this ban was lifted four years later. Ironically, it was banned in a Washington city for the references to prostitutes throughout the novel. Of all the contextual evidence critics could have used, they rely on the use of a simple word to constitute a banning.
Ellison’s novel paints a vivid picture of the atrocities of race relations in early 20th century America. While incredibly eye-opening, it is also incredibly graphic, gratuitous, and disturbing. Despite an overwhelming positive response from critics, complaints from two parents were enough to ban the novel in a North Carolina city school district. One adult claimed the story did not have “any literary value” at all. Ironic, since TIME magazine called this book “the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.” Did the parents who argued against the teaching of this book also argue against teaching the realities of pre-Civil Rights-era America?
Kesey’s famous depiction of the atrocities committed against patients in a 1950s mental institution has been challenged by a number of school districts. Most notably, the same Ohio district that challenged Catch-22 also decided that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest “glofiries criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.” While it’s clear that they at least read the book, it’s not so evident that they understood Kesey’s message. Unfortunately, the author’s message, that mental patients are human beings and should be treated as such, must have gone right out the window with Chief Bromden.
An incredibly vivid, gratuitous, and overall disturbing novel, The Naked and the Dead chronicles the atrocities of World War II unlike any other novel to date. I’ll be blatantly honest, I couldn’t finish it. It’s that heart-wrenching, twisted, and depressing. Of course, that has nothing to do with why people have wanted to ban it since its publication in 1948. It was banned in Canada and Australia for the use of the word “fug” (a euphemism which I’m sure you can figure out), and for being deemed “disgusting” by the Canadian Minister of National Revenue, despite his not actually having read the novel at all. He’s right though, the novel is disgusting, but so is war.
One of Steinbeck’s greatest novels, The Grapes of Wrath centers on a working-class family trying to stay afloat during the Great Depression. Published in 1939, the work was attacked for its wanton depiction of Depression-era life for those negatively affected by the stock market crash. Though Steinbeck himself argued that real life was much worse for the poor than how his novel depicted it, many critics accused him of spreading political propaganda. Regardless of all of this, the book has also been challenged or banned in a variety of school districts because the characters at times take the Lord’s name in vain. I mean, how dare these people who have been forced to the brink of starvation let their frustrations out through a few carelessly used phrases?
It can’t get any more ironic, can it? A story about the slippery slope of censorship actually being chopped up and expurgated is like…I can’t even come up anything as ridiculous to compare this to. Well, it gets funnier. The book wasn’t outright banned, but a California school district actually went through the trouble of blanking out vulgar words and passages throughout the novel. Another district in Texas challenged the novel for “discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, ‘dirty talk,’ references to the Bible, and using God’s name in vain.” I should end this list now so you can reflect on the irony of this situation, but there’s one more important one to get to.
The “Great American Novel” has been challenged since its publication over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, the most important novel in American history is also the most misunderstood. Yes, it’s vulgar. Yes, it uses the “n-word.” Yes, it does expose God-fearing, church-going pre-Civil War Americans as the racist imbeciles most of them were. However, the story is an absolute necessity for anyone hoping to understand what it was like, not only for Blacks in America at the time, but also for anyone who has faced a life-changing moral dilemma during their time on Earth. Any critics who point to the characters’ vulgar language or immoral actions in the novel as evidence the book should be banned have missed Twain’s purpose for writing it. If everyone in the world lived by Huck’s code of ethics, there would be far less violence, hatred, and prejudice.