Exploring the History and Impact of Banned Books

Benjamin Franklin

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Banned Books are books that have been removed from libraries, school systems, reading lists, and book store shelves by organizations, and private individuals. Books are usually banned for topics regarding race, gender, sexuality, history, and language. In other cases, books have been banned and challenged for sexual content, inappropriate language, and topics such as tobacco and alcohol use. 

Banned Book Week is highlighted the end of September or the first week of October. It was a created in order to celebrate the value free and open access to information. Banned Book week was started in 1982 in response to a sudden growth in books being challenged and banned. This was an important topic of the 1970s and early 1980s as school systems saw the first increase in banned and censored books for content such as race and history. Many academics believed in that time that banning books would be the first step in endangering the first amendment rights to freedom of speech and expression.

Yet, it did not stop the censorship of books and media. Many books considered literary classics made their way to the banned book list and fueled the tile’s way to fame. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Animal Farm, Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, and the Scarlet Letter, are a few well known titles. Other more unexpected banned and challenged titles include The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien, Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and Charlotte’s Web

The Idea of censorship within academia has been around for thousands of years. Great literary classics that have gone down in history as beautiful expressions of human thought began as a banned or censored including Shakespeare. Challenging societal normalities and typical ideologies is a Most Dangerous Game. On one hand censorship can endanger the right to free thinking, on the other, most books are banned for their obscene content and the potential affects and harm on children.

Valid concerns have arisen from many of the classics mentioned above. To Kill a Mockingbird is banned for its obscene language and use of racial slurs. It was deemed inappropriate for some audiences and was removed from several school systems. Yet, The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien was banned in the 70s is several school systems because characters smoked a pipe, and some Christian households believed the book to be irreligious, despite Tolkiens intentions.

In recent years banned and challenged book lists have grown significantly. From PEN Writers, who study and conduct polls on banned books, and parents of banned books, it was found that from 2022-2023 books being challenged in school systems increased by 30%. It was interesting that this was found, considering in another poll, 70% of parents believed that books shouldn’t be banned. Yet the number of titles being censored has increased for themes of race, gender, sexual orientation, and history. 

by Kinsley Mankin

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