10 Literary Classics That Have Been Banned – History
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Not all Americans have found Mark Twainâ€™s Great American Novel so great. Weeks after the satire was published in 1885, librarians in Concord, Massachusetts, rejected it for being â€œrough, coarse and inelegantâ€ and â€œmore suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.â€ Two decades later, the book was removed from the Brooklyn Public Libraryâ€™s shelves in part because â€œHuck not only itched but scratchedâ€ and â€œsaid â€˜sweatâ€™ when he should have said â€˜perspiration.â€™â€ Twainâ€™s 19th-century racial language has also rankled some 21st-century readers, According to the American Library Association, the story of Huck and Jim journeying down the Mississippi River was the 14th most-challenged book between 2000 and 2009.
The Call of the Wild
The vicious dog fights, mistreatment of animals and harsh undertones in Jack Londonâ€™s tale of the Klondike gold rush have spurred censorship calls since its publication in 1903. However, it was the leftist political views of the authorâ€”who was twice the Socialist Party candidate for mayor of Oakland, Californiaâ€”rather than the bookâ€™s blood and gore that ran â€œThe Call of the Wildâ€ afoul of fascist authorities in Italy during the 1920s and early 1930s and resulted in the Nazi Party burning several of Londonâ€™s socialist-leaning writings in 1933.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Leeâ€™s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been repeatedly challenged and banned in schools amid complaints of profanity, racial epithets and a description of a rape. After a Virginia school board banned her book in 1966 for being â€œimmoral literature,â€ an exasperated Lee wrote to a Richmond newspaper, â€œTo hear that the novel is â€˜immoralâ€™ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.â€ The book was banned in Lindale, Texas, in 1996 because it â€œconflicted with the values of the communityâ€ and removed from an Ontario high schoolâ€™s English class in 2009 because of its racial language. On the flip side, however, the school board in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, reinstated the novel in 2013 after a 12-year ban.
The Grapes of Wrath
Predictably, residents of Kern County, California, were less than thrilled with the unflattering depiction of their local area in John Steinbeckâ€™s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and banned it for being libelous. Less predictable, however, was the reaction of the library board in East St. Louis, Illinois, who ordered the cityâ€™s three copies burned because the â€œobjectionableâ€ language was â€œnot fit for anyoneâ€™s daughter to read.â€ The classic tale of Dust Bowl migrants was also banned in Kansas City and Buffalo for its â€œvulgar wordsâ€ and sexual references. The American Library Association also reports that Ireland banned â€œThe Grapes of Wrathâ€ in 1953, and in 1973 Turkish booksellers stood trial for hawking copies of the book along with other â€œpropaganda unfavorable to the state.â€
James Joyceâ€™s radical, stream-of-consciousness story of Leopold Bloomâ€™s daylong journey across Dublin stoked a fiery reactionâ€”literallyâ€”on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean after its 1922 publication. According to author Kevin Birminghamâ€™s â€œThe Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyceâ€™s Ulysses,â€ government authorities in the United States and England not only banned what is now considered a modernist masterpiece, they also confiscated and burned more than 1,000 copies. Until a federal judge ruled in 1933 that â€œUlyssesâ€ was not obscene, Americans were forced to track down smuggled copies of Joyceâ€™s novel in order to read it.
A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingwayâ€™s 1929 novel based on his experiences as an ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I was banned by Italyâ€™s fascist regime for nearly 20 years because of its depiction of the countryâ€™s terrible defeat at the Battle of Caporetto as well as its anti-militarism theme that led to its burning by the Nazis in 1933 as a â€œcorrupting foreign influence.â€ Even before the official publication of â€œA Farewell to Arms,â€ Boston police barred the sale of issues of Scribnerâ€™s magazine that serialized the â€œsalaciousâ€ novel, prompting the publisher to respond, â€œThe ban on the sale of the magazine in Boston is an evidence of the improper use of censorship which bases its objections upon certain passages without taking into account the effect and purpose of the story as a whole.â€
Kurt Vonnegutâ€™s novel based upon his experiences as a prisoner of war in World War II has been banned repeatedly by schools since its publication in 1969. The American Library Association reports that towns in New York, Ohio and Florida have banned â€œSlaughterhouse-Fiveâ€ because of the â€œbookâ€™s explicit sexual scenes, violence and obscene language.â€ In 2011, the Republic, Missouri, school board unanimously voted to remove the book from library shelves amid complaints it was profane and incompatible with biblical principles. In 1973, the school district of Drake, North Dakota, even burned 32 copies of the novelâ€”notable for its depiction of the 1945 Allied fire-bombing of Dresdenâ€”in its high schoolâ€™s coal furnace.
The Catcher in the Rye
Following its 1951 publication, J.D. Salingerâ€™s instant hit about disillusioned teenager Holden Caulfield became regularly assigned reading in high schools across the country as well as â€œa favorite target of censors,â€ according to the American Library Association, which reports it remained the 19th most-challenged book between 2000 and 2009 due to profanity, blasphemy and sexual references. According to a biography of Salinger by Raychel Haugrud Reiff, the coming-of-age story was removed from the high school syllabus in Issaquah, Washington, in 1978 after a citizen identified 785 profanities and claimed its inclusion was â€œpart of an overall communist plot.â€
Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitmanâ€™s poetry collection shocked much of America when the first edition was published in 1855. Its frank depiction of sexuality and homoerotic overtones was far â€œtoo sensualâ€ for the Victorian Age. Yale University President Noah Porter believed â€œLeaves of Grassâ€ to be the literary equivalent of â€œwalking naked through the streets.â€ Nearly every American library refused to purchase a copy, and the book even cost Whitman his job as a clerk with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1865 after Secretary of the Interior James Harlan read it and found it obscene and immoral.
Harry Potter series
Modern-day popular literature is hardly immune from calls for censorship. As quickly as J.K. Rowlingâ€™s series of â€œHarry Potterâ€ books shot up the best-seller lists, it also rose to top the list of most banned and challenged books between 2000 and 2009, according to the American Library Association. The series drew complaints from parents and others about the booksâ€™ alleged occult/satanic theme, religious viewpoint, anti-family approach and violence.