10 Controversial Classics for Banned Books Week
It is a truth universally known that books have power and for some, that power is seen as dangerous. Book banning and attempts to censor books have existed since the beginning of time. Though the impact may seem minimal in the present-day, individuals and groups still actively petition the removal of books from schools, libraries, and bookstores.
Banned Books Week is an annual celebration usually held during the last week of September to highlight the value of free and open access to information and the freedom to read. It’s important to remember the then-controversial works of literature that were once censored and how they made it out on the other side as some of the most read and discussed books today.
In observance of Banned Books Week, I’m sharing ten books that were banned and the reasons why they were removed from bookshelves.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Banned for: “language and sexual references in the book.”
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Banned for: “pornographic,” and “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.”
Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a seminal novel of the 1960s. Here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants.
Native Son by Richard Wright
Banned for: “objectionable language” and “violence, sex, and profanity.”
Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Banned for: “filthy and inappropriate.” language degrading to blacks, and is sexually explicit.”
Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Banned for: objection to the words “masses will revolt” and “Orwell was a communist.”
Animal Farm is a devastating satire of the Soviet Union by the man V. S. Pritchett called “the conscience of his generation.” A fable about an uprising of farm animals against their human masters, it illustrates how new tyranny replaces old in the wake of revolutions and power corrupts even the noblest of causes.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Banned for: making promiscuous sex “look like fun” and “the book’s language and moral content.”
Originally published in 1932, presents Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future–of a world utterly transformed. Through the most efficient scientific and psychological engineering, people are genetically designed to be passive and therefore consistently useful to the ruling class. This powerful work of speculative fiction sheds a blazing critical light on the present and is considered to be Huxley’s most enduring masterpiece.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Banned for: “profanity and using God’s name in vain” and “its vulgar language.”
While the powerlessness of the laboring class is a recurring theme in Steinbeck’s work of the late 1930s, he narrowed his focus when composing “Of Mice and Men” (1937), creating an intimate portrait of two men facing a world marked by petty tyranny, misunderstanding, jealousy, and callousness. But though the scope is narrow, the theme is universal; a friendship and a shared dream that makes an individual’s existence meaningful.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Banned for: being obscene “unsuitable for minors.”
Lolita tells the story of aging Hubert Humbert who has an obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet, Dolores Haze. It is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. All in all, “Lolita” is filled with awe and exhilaration, along with heartbreak and mordant wit.
1984 by George Orwell
Banned for: being. “pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.”
1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmare vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. “1984” is still the great modern classic “negative Utopia” – a startling original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imagination of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Banned for: “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.”
The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience. The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.
Have you read any banned books?
Have you read any books from this list? Do you have any banned books on your TBR? What is your favorite banned book?