With over 11,000 books being challenged across the nation and Banned Books Week in the recent past, censorship and banning books is a timely issue that should be discussed.
The First Amendment to the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” So why do the citizens of the United States still have to battle with the government over censorship when it is clearly spelled out in the Constitution?
Some say that books on the banned books list are sexually explicit or contain graphic violence and are banned because of content.
In most instances of banned classics, the content is merely challenging members of society to think for themselves and question a common practice or a historical event.
This is seen through books that have been or are currently on the banned books list like “1984” by George Orwell, “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. These books all have one thing in common — the graphic telling of a story that needs to be heard by the American public.
Although these books may challenge the ideas of society now and during the time they were written, the issues brought out in these works are still highly relevant today.
The old saying “If you don’t remember the past you’re doomed to repeat your mistakes” is relevant in this instance given the content of some of the banned classics. In the context of today’s racial tensions, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee could be helpful in addressing some current problems.
This idea can also be found in the book “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Kesey raises awareness for the treatment of the elderly in nursing homes. Young people are told to change the world in today’s society, but the authors of all these books mentioned above were all young once and were trying to change the world with their words through these works. Now they have been censored and banned. Change is rarely comfortable but provoking change with words has happened effectively in history over and over again.
For example, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a great movement stifled by those who disagreed with it, as seen through the legendary speech by Martin Luther King at Lincoln Memorial.
Words are one of the first ways to provoke change and if our society censors it, we resist the change. America was built on progress, change and fighting words. Through censoring and banning these books we risk losing the momentum of change and the identity we have as Americans. We must remember our past to move forward as a society.
These classics are part of American history. They might be discussing a part of the past many people don’t wish to talk about, but it still needs to be discussed. We can never expect to move forward as a nation if we refuse to look at the past and discuss issues relevant to today.
photo courtesy of billmoyers.com