The Connection Between Great Literature and Censorship

Radcliffe put out a Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century list. According to the American Library Association, at least 42 of those books have been targets of ban attempts. There’s a heavy concentration of titles in the top 30 – those targeted for banning are in bold.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Ulysses, James Joyce
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
1984, George Orwell

The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

Charlotte’s Web, EB White
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Animal Farm, George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Native Son, Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

I’ve read 28 of the books in the top 30. Most of them are books that changed my life and shaped me as a person and an author. A few, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, were ones I had to read in high school and still loathe today, LOL. But still – literature is the cornerstone of culture!

Going back to The Grapes of Wrath for a moment because it’s a perfect example of a “truly important book.” You can read a history book to find out the facts about the dustbowl and the depression. You can interview those people who lived it (who are still alive). But Steinbeck brought their struggle alive, gave it a face, a voice in Grapes of Wrath. How can that be something we should ban?

Great literature should enlighten. Should elevate and make you think. (Not every book is great literature and that’s okay too, I don’t write great literature but I hope I entertain and occasionally give you something to think about.) But great literature is important to culture. To understanding.

I’m a Steinbeck fan, I see Of Mice and Men is on the list too. Another amazing book!

Slaughterhouse Five – Vonnegut is on the list a lot. The man is brilliant with subtlety. Slaughterhouse Five is one of the best books about war I’ve ever read. It’s tongue and cheek, witty, sharp. The kind of book I wish like hell I could write.

And Conrad’s Heart of Darkness! Man. I read this book in college. It’s rife with metaphor, layered metphor. So on the page there are the words, and then three layers of metaphor about people, war, human nature – it’s truly brilliant.

Anyway, I suppose this whole week is more about my love of great books than anything else but damn it, I look at these books and I can’t imagine my life, or heck, the library, without them.

Knowledge isn’t the enemy. You can’t make decisions about anything if you know nothing. Poverty of knowlege leads to poverty of the spirit.

10 comments to “The Connection Between Great Literature and Censorship”

  1. Christine
    September 26th, 2006 at 1:28 pm · Link

    The real question is, why do they want to ban these books. I would love to hear the rationale.

  2. Loribelle Hunt
    September 26th, 2006 at 1:30 pm · Link

    I’ve read almost all those books. Gatsby has always been a favorite. I read it over and over again. I’m posting Thursday at The Novelty Girls about Banned Book Week. Lots of really great books on that list. It’s such a shame some people are so small minded they try to limit other’s ability to seek out knowledge through literature.

  3. laurendane
    September 26th, 2006 at 3:52 pm · Link

    Christine, the ALA site has a list of some of the reasons why books are challenged –

    also, in the case of say, Grapes of Wrath – it’s a pretty sound indictment of class relations in America. Instead of learning, some people just shut down when threatened and they want to shut others up.

    Most of the books on the list have very serious themes, like Heart of Darkness and Catch 22 – both books with very strong points of view. There may be curse words in some of them, racial themes, sexual themes – every single DH Lawrence novel on the list was challenged.

    Loribelle, yeah no kidding! I’ll be sure to check out Novelty Girls on Thursday!

  4. Lori
    September 26th, 2006 at 10:57 pm · Link

    Vonnegut is a pretty outspoken critic of the far right. I wonder how much of the targeting is based on his personal philosophies rather than anything contained in his books. I agree – he is a brilliant man.

    And I couldn’t agree more about Steinbeck. Although perhaps high school students can’t truly appreciate The Grapes of Wrath, which is when we are all required to read it LOL, it is definitely one that brings the depression to life, especially as we lose more and more people who were alive during that time. And Of Mice and Men is just such an amazing book,… I don’t know what else to say about it… and Catch-22 and Heart of Darkness… Sheesh…

    You know, all of a sudden I find it very interesting that we are off fighting a war in another country, forcing democracy down the throats of people who, frankly, don’t seem to want it all that much and seem to do better without it, but we can’t or don’t even enforce it in our own country. Here we are, 225 years after our own hard-earned democracy and we are still trying to tell people what they should and shouldn’t read. Hmmm… food for thought… (I do NOT intend for this to be a political debate, just something to chew on)

  5. Loribelle Hunt
    September 26th, 2006 at 11:35 pm · Link

    Lauren, I’ll have to go look. I didn’t realize that about DH Lawrence. He’s another of my faves and I just mentioned him on a Divas thread a few days ago.

    Lori, I love your blog! I’m was justing checking it out and I have to say I agree about Suz Brockmann. I love her and no one can do what she does. Didn’t you just love Izzy? I so want his book now lol.

  6. Lori
    September 27th, 2006 at 3:15 pm · Link

    Wow – thank you Loribelle! What a nice thing to say 🙂

    And is there anybody out there who doesn’t love Suz? And what a nice lady to boot!

  7. laurendane
    September 27th, 2006 at 3:28 pm · Link

    Lori’s blog is probably my favorite reader review blog. It’s very well done and honest as well as comprehensive.

    And Lori, sweetie, I totally agree with you so don’t worry about being political, LOL.

    I’m a Suz fan too. I haven’t read her most recent but I’ve been a wee bit busy, LOL.

  8. Lori
    September 27th, 2006 at 7:23 pm · Link

    Thanks Lauren. The Suz review was done by JenniferB, who really and truly “owns” the blog LOL.

    Are you referring to the little rant I put up on Let’s Gab? Grrrrr…. that makes me so mad!! I’d be interested in hearing your legal opinion over there, only if you’re comfortable posting about it.

  9. laurendane
    September 27th, 2006 at 7:35 pm · Link

    No I meant above where you said you didn’t mean to be political, LOL. As for the death penalty and my legal opinion, oy!

    From a purely legal standpoint, the death penalty cannot ever be administered in a way that I can be assured we’re always putting a guilty person to death. There are cases every year where people are found to have been wrongly convicted and that makes me uncomfortable with the process. If the state is going to put people to death, it shouldn’t be putting innocent people to death.

    So while I find the whole idea of needle pricks hurting and sterilizing the place where the needle gets inserted to be absurd, the very real issue of how the system is administered and the fact that we’ve got innocent people on death row, makes me not support it.

    Not that I don’t find some people absolutely deserving of death. I do. But from the standpoint of a lawyer and someone who believes the state should administer justice, I can’t support it in its current form.

  10. Lori
    September 27th, 2006 at 7:38 pm · Link

    LOL – I forgot I put that rant in my comment above *snicker*…

    I agree about making sure that only guilty people are put to death. It’s a tough call. This one didn’t give me any pause at all. I just hate the argument that they are using. So freakin’ petty.