Our freedom is under attack! Censorship is clearly an attack on our freedom. There are a number of books that are banned or challenged that are great books, such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. These books are classics. Banning these books robs students of great literature. Censorship of books in secondary schools should not be allowed.
The list of books that have been banned completely in many schools across the nation is expansive, and so are the reasons that parents and schoolboards give for banning these books. Advocates of literary censorship say that it’s best for the students. Opponents say that it is detrimental to the educational system. The students have mixed emotions.
Literary censorship at the secondary school level is indeed very widespread. One of the most controversial books is Huckleberry Finn, which is currently under fire by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the NAACP because it contains the word nigger 39 times in the first 35 pages. They feel that the liberal use of such a derogatory word is detrimental to the self-esteem of young African-American children. The NAACP says that they want the book removed from required-reading lists, but they are not out to censor it (Campbell, par. 4). Large groups such as the NAACP are not the only people pushing for Huckleberry Finn’s banning in America’s schools. Small groups of parents have protested the book’s status as required reading in their children’s schools because of its language. Huckleberry Finn isn’t the only book targeted by parents.
Another frequently challenged book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This book was handed out at an Irvine, California, middle school in 1992 with profane words such as damn and hell blocked out. Students wrote to Bradbury describing the situation and pointing out the irony that a book about the evils of censorship had to be censored before they could read it. The books were soon replaced with uncensored ones (Campbell, par. 27).
The Catcher in the Rye was challenged in several school districts nationwide because of the liberal use of slang and obscene words that author J.D. Sallinger used to make the book more realistic. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned in several secondary schools for containing racist slurs. Some readers felt that the book portrayed Negroes as barbarians and criminals. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare was banned in a secondary school in Midland, Michigan, because a small group of parents felt that the character Shylock projected a negative image of Jews. Another Shakespeare classic, Twelfth Night, was banned in Merrimak, NH schools in 1996 after a prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction act was passed by the school board. Other Shakespearean works have been challenged in various schools in America because parents and administrators felt that some characters project a homosexual image (Banned, par.7).
Every person who is involved in debate over literary censorship believes that he or she is doing the right thing for the students. The advocates of literary censorship believe that exposing children to such material as Huckleberry Finn in high school will contaminate their minds with racist garbage at a time in their lives when they are searching for things to believe in. Opponents see the banning of Huckleberry Finn in many schools a form of censorship that will teach children that speaking their minds is not a good thing to do (Campbell, par. 8). However, the debate over literary censorship in schools is not a debate over whether or not literature should be censored at all. Most parents, teachers, and administrators would agree that censorship is necessary to maintain a good environment for learning. The debate is over whether or not to draw the line at Huckleberry Finn. If the book was good twenty years ago, then why all of a sudden is it not good for students to read anymore? People read the book before and they are doing just fine. If the book can stand the test of time, then it must have some value to it. Even people who consider themselves the most avid opponents of literary censorship in schools would agree that pornography should be kept out of schools. In books such as Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, the point that the author was trying to get across when he or she included the racist slurs in his or her writing is open to misinterpretation.
Some students, when given the opportunity, would chose not to read at all. Therefore it is important that teachers expose their students to exceptional literature by requiring them to read it. There is a huge difference between removing books from the curriculum and removing them from the library. As long as the books are in the library, the students have access to them. It is better to read and learn about the books in class through class discussions. The teacher can help explain parts that are unclear and point out that profane and racial language is used for a purpose. When the students just read the book themselves, they may not fully understand the meaning of what the author is trying to portray.
Ray Bradbury attacks book censorship in the afterward of Fahrenheit 451 by saying that there is more than one way to burn a book, and that the world is full of minority groups running around with lit matches in the form of censors and bans. He asks people to stop trying to censor his work because it steals from the integrity of it (Bradbury 180). It is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minority of would-be censors to interfere with the beauty of literature.
Authors have the right to say whatever they want in their books, so long as it isn’t libelous. High schools censor and ban books because they feel that some material is inappropriate for high school kids to read. However, it seems that some parents and administrators wish to carry their ability to censor what their kids read too far.
Harper Lee uses racial slurs in To Kill A Mockingbird to accurately portray the events that would have occurred in the time period in which the book takes place. Furthermore, these slurs are used to represent the time period and the culture of the people who used racist words on an everyday basis. These same rules apply to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
The main argument that advocates of censorship of such books have is ridiculous. They tell their opponents that letting high schoolers read the material in question will dirty their mind at a time when they are trying to develop their own morals. But the action of not letting high schoolers read such material is itself detrimental to
their moral development. To be against something, it is first necessary to have knowledge of it. Censoring and banning books denies students this knowledge and stands against this necessary development. Books that are considered by many the greatest ever written are also the ones that appear most often on ban lists, because the authors of these books wrote down exactly what they felt. Great books are written by authors who put their thoughts on paper without the fear of censorship.
Social Issues Essays