For nearly as long as the written word has existed, it has been a target for censorship. Religion was the most frequently cited reason for the censorship of written works. In 14th century England, for example, reading the Wycliff Bible was forbidden by the clergy for fear that the translation had corrupted or misinterpreted the original text. In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church placed Machiavelli’s The Prince on the Index of Prohibited Books in the “banned absolutely” category for its “heretical” content.
But book-banning isn’t really an issue in the United States anymore, right? Wrong.
Literary works are still challenged, censored and banned for many different reasons. Books as varied as Judy Blume’s Forever, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings have been challenged by parents and school boards who deem certain sexual passages inappropriate for young people. Works such as It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, among others, frequently face demands for removal from library shelves for their focus on gay/lesbian issues. And the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, among others, have been challenged by dozens of parents, administrators, and clergy for their scary, violent or occult themes.
Written works on evolution have also faced censorship, as have books that represent race in a way that is deemed objectionable by certain groups.
Types of Objections against Books
Profanity: Books are often challenged for the language they contain, even though profanity is often used in literature to convey social or historical context, local dialect or simply to better depict reactions to real-life situations. Books such as Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut have been challenged or banned due to objections to profanity.
Sex: Books as varied as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle, among many others, have been challenged by parents and school boards who deem certain sexual passages inappropriate for young people. Works such as It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, among others, face demands for removal for their frank discussion and focus on gay/lesbian issues.
Violence: Objections to violent content are often based on the idea that these works trivialize violence or desensitize readers to its effects. Books challenged on these grounds include One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte and Native Son by Richard Wright.
Religion: Religious grounds have long been cited as reasons for censoring books. Reading translations of the Bible was once forbidden. Today, parents and ministers often object to works which discuss topics such as sex and evolution or witchcraft or occult themes.
Interested in fighting censorship? Then check out NCAC’s Book Censorship Toolkit.