Posted by Jill Harness
Many people are aware that Harry Potter, The Anarchist Cookbook and Stephen King books have been banned from schools around the country, but as many civilizations have figured out, censorship is a slippery slope. It is pretty strange to consider Shakespeare has not only been banned from public schools over sexual themes, but that censored editions have been out since the 1700s.
Photo Via florian.b [Flickr]
Of the Radcliffe Publishing list of the top 100 books of the past century, almost half have been challenged by schools, many are banned in whole countries. Here’s a few banned titles that just may surprise you:
*Note: Plot summaries may include spoilers. I know all you Neatorama readers are pretty intelligent, so I wouldn’t doubt if many of you have read these books. I’ve included the summaries to give an idea as to why the books may have been banned.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Plot: A soldier, Henry, on the Italian front meets and seduces a young woman, Catherine. Their relationship continues as he heals a knee that was injured in battle. By the time his knee is fully healed, Catherine is three months pregnant. Unfortunately, Henry has to return to the war and the Germans break through the Italian lines. The Italians charge the soldiers for treachery for letting the Germans defeat them. Henry escapes during another officer’s execution and runs away to Switzerland with Catherine. They live happily until Catherine gives birth to a stillborn and then dies in labor.
Where it’s been banned: Published in 1929, this novel caused trouble immediately. Boston banned the magazine it was originally published in, claiming the story was too sexual. Italy banned the book because of its portrayal of the army’s retreat from Caporatto. The Nazis burned the book in 1933. In 1939, Ireland banned the novel. In modern America, plenty of school districts have banned the publication for sexual content.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Plot: The book’s plot uses the same story line as Tarzan. A couple of civilized people, Bernard and Lenina, enter a primitive society and bring a “savage” back into their modern society. The difference here is that these “civilized people” live in a futuristic world filled with castes, happy drugs, sex without reproduction and euthanasia. Love, sadness and families have become obsolete, as well as self-expression and exploration.
The Tarzan in this piece is the son, John, of an ex-civilized woman who now lives with the “savages.” John was raised with family, love and Shakespeare. When they return to the city, John becomes a spectacle for society types and even Lenina starts finding him interesting. John begins falling in love with Lenina even as he is disgusted with the modern world and her role in it. John finds he cannot escape this world and eventually kills himself to discontinue playing his role as a tourist spectacle.
Where it’s been banned: This text is one of the most frequently banned books in literary history. It was banned in Ireland the year it was published, 1932. Multiple school districts have restricted access to this book because the atheistic people in the futuristic society it depicts take drugs and have promiscuous sex to avoid emotional connections. There are a lot of people who try to compare this book to our modern society, but if that was accurate, would we still be banning it from school?
Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Plot: A teenage boy, Holden Caulfield, runs away to New York after being expelled from reform school. The book is a first person narrative and over the course of the story, you learn about his brother’s passing and how that has affected his present state of mind. Throughout his adventure, he drinks, smokes, hits on adult women, gets beaten up by a pimp, is hit on by a past teacher and deals with many other activities that a teen shouldn’t be going through. He constantly complains about other people his age, calling them “phony” or stupid. The novel explores Holden’s psychological need to grow up after his brother’s death. It also does an excellent job depicting his desire to protect young children from becoming adults.
Where it’s been banned: In 1960, a teacher was fired from her job for requiring her eleventh grade class to read the book. Between 1961 and 1962, it was the most censored book in high schools and colleges. This novel has been banned in schools throughout America for being anti-white, blasphemous, profane, racist and overtly sexual. How anything can be racist and anti-white, I don’t know.
Update: I meant this statement as how the book can be racist against both blacks and whites at the same time, which is what the people condemning the book seemed to imply. Personally, I don’t think you can be racist against your self and persons of other races at the same time, I think it makes you more of a person hater than a racist. Although I’m sure many readers would still like to disagree with this.
Completely unrelated but interesting: many murderers read Catcher In The Rye shortly before committing their crimes.
Fanny Hill or Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure, John Cleland
Plot: Considered to be the first modern erotic novel, there are quite a few naughty bits in this book, if you want to read a bit, there’s an excerpt on the Wikipedia page. The story revolves around a young country girl who must leave her village due to poverty. She is forced to work at a brothel, but escapes with her true love before she loses her virginity. When her love is forced to leave the country, she has to take on a variety of male “acquaintances” in order to survive.
Where it’s been banned: This book was monumental to both English and American obscenity standards. A year after the book was released, John Cleland and the publisher were both arrested and charged with “corrupting the king’s subjects.” They subsequently stopped publishing the novel, but it still managed to become popular thanks to pirated editions circulating the country. Cleland attempted to clean up the book and republished it in 1750, but he was arrested again, although this time the charges were dropped. The book continued to be published underground and in 1963 there was an obscenity trial against a book seller carrying the novel. Although the defense lost, it helped to shift public opinion about obscenity laws in Britain. In 1970, the unabridged book was legally published for the first time.
Over in the states, the book was banned for obscenity in 1821. In 1963, a publisher tried to re-release the book under the title John Cleland’s Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure. The book was also banned under this title, but the publisher, G.B. Putnam, challenged the ban. The Supreme Court ruled the novel did not meet the standards for obscenity. This was the last book to be banned by the US federal government.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Plot: Set in 1930, it tells the tale of a Tom Joad, a recently paroled murderer, and his family of farmers. The group is forced to leave their home in Oklahoma that has fallen victim to the dust bowl storms. They hope to find better luck in California, though on their way out West, they constantly run into other families hoping for the same luck.
When they get to California, they find the farmers have bound together to exploit the massive amount of laborers offering their services. When workers begin to unionize, the Joads work as strike breakers and end up involved with a bloody strike, forcing Tom Joad to kill again. In the end, practically all of the family’s actions prove to be pointless as they are starving and homeless in California.
Where it’s been banned: Published in 1939, this Steinbeck story caused an uproar as soon as it was released. These days, the book seems to be fairly mild, with a few references to sex and some minor curse words, but the book was quite racy for its day. Kern county was one of the first places to ban the novel as they were insulted by how Steinbeck depicted their citizens. It was immediately burned by the East St. Louis library, banned from Buffalo, New York and Kansas City. Since then, it’s been banned in many high schools -mostly for bad language. A parent in Burlington, North Carolina said, “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.”
Internationally, the book has had trouble too. In 1953, Ireland deemed the book obscene and banned it. In 1973, eleven publishers in Turkey were charged for “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state.” Why Grapes of Wrath would be seen as unfavorable to Turkey, I have no idea. If you do, please tell me in the comments.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Plot: Lady Chatterley’s husband has become paralyzed and impotent. She struggles to remain faithful to him, but ends up having an affair with the gamekeeper. The novel covers her struggle to live only mentally, although she proves to need physical stimulation as well.
Where it’s been banned: The Penguin Books 1960 British publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the first novels tried under England’s 1959 obscenity law. This law gave publishers the right to release racy books, as long as the work was of literary merit. Penguin was found not guilty and the novel was legally available in England for the first time. The trial was later turned into a BBC show known as “The Chatterley Affair.”
Conversely, Australia not only found the book to be legally obscene, but also banned publication of a book depicting the British trial called The Trial of Lady Chatterley. A copy of the book was smuggled into the country anyway and published underground. Many people read the book and it eventually led to lesser censorship of books in the country.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover at Amazon
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Plot: Humbert Humbert, is invited to move in with a woman who wants to sleep with him. He is about to say no, when he sees her 12 year old daughter, Lolita, playing in the yard. The woman discovers his ulterior motive and plans to send Lolita to boarding school but she is hit and killed by a car. Humbert tries to drug the Lolita to have his way with her, but she instead seduces him.
Humbert becomes Lolita’s guardian and falls in love with her although she has very little interest in him. She escapes his guardianship by making plans with another pedophile. Humbert tries to find Lolita and her abductor, but gets nowhere. Two years later, a married and pregnant Lolita contacts him requesting money. He brings her money and tries to get her to leave with him. She refuses. She does, however, give him information on her abductor and Humbert tracks down the man and kills him. Humbert goes to jail, where he writes a novel called Lolita.
Where it’s been banned: The book was released in 1955 and received little attention until author Graham Greene sang its praises in an interview with The London Times. After reading the statement, the editor of the Sunday Express replied that the book was “sheer, unrestrained pornography.” That’s when the book was banned in Britain and all imported copies were ordered to be seized by the customs department. By December 1956, France followed suit, although both countries repealed the ban in 1959. Argentina and New Zealand both banned the book in the following years.
Surprisingly, the book wasn’t criticized as much in America, in fact, in its first three weeks available it sold over 100,000 copies.