BBW 2011: To Kill a Mockingbird thoughts

~~Banned Books Week (BBW) 2011 takes place September 24th-October 1st~~

In August 2011, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee on audiobook. I admit that I did not read this American classic until I was 24. Not that I’m ashamed of that. It was required reading for my high school’s regular freshman English courses–I, however, took Honors English, meaning my required reading was The Odyssey. (Having read both, I much prefer The Odyssey.)

Regardless of my dislike to the book, To Kill a Mockingbird is often referred to as a “controversial” book and I will never like it if people attempt to censor books. According to the American Library Association’s (ALA) website, it is a book that is constantly asked for removal from school libraries and reading lists. Here are a few examples of the challenges towards to book, from this page on the ALA website:

Challenged in Eden Valley, Minn. (1977) and temporarily banned due to words “damn” and “whore lady” used in the novel. Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy novel.” Challenged at the Warren, Ind.Township schools (1981) because the book does “psychological damage to the positive integration process ” and “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” After unsuccessfully banning Lee’s novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council…Challenged at the Santa Cruz, Calif. Schools (1995) because of its racial themes…Banned from the Lindale,Tex. advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.” Challenged in the Normal, ILL Community High Schools sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans. Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, N.C. (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “nigger.”

I cannot help by comment on some of the grounds people have used for challenging this particular book. Firstly, I will never understand why a book should be challenged because of certain words between its covers. A single word is hardly reason enough for anyone of a “certain” age to not be allowed a book. Damn. Whore lady. Nigger. There, I’ve said them. While the last of these three words is a word I would never use except to quote a person, all three are hardly reason for banning. I wonder if the people who challenged the book on these terms were just too worried about having to explain the meaning to their own children/students.

Secondly, I suppose I could see a little weight to the challenge that the book does “‘psychological damage to the positive integration process ” and “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.”‘ For readers of a certain age, the comprehension of the story might be a little above them. So, as far as worrying that the book hurts “positive integration” or promotes the racism that was considered normal and appropriate for the 1930s in the Deep South, I can see a bit of weight to their concerns. But even if a reader isn’t mature enough to understand that that isn’t the intention of the story, their questions would be a great way for parents/teachers to address that the time the book was set in was different from when it was written and even read by the reader. I can see so many opportunities to discuss the Deep South in the 1930s in response to questions a younger reader might bring about.

Finally, I have to say that the challenge I have bolded upsets me most. The fact that a book can be banned from an advanced placement reading list is the first thing that I find wrong. For those of you who don’t live in the US, advanced placement (AP) courses offered in high schools can count towards university credit if the test at the end of the year is passed. So, banning a book from an AP class is like saying you also thing it is inappropriate for the scholarly walls of the universities! But to be so bold as to assume the “values of the community” are the same amongst all people–well, that I just can’t believe. Seeing as there were about 5,000 people living in Lindale, Texas when they banned the book, I fervently doubt they all had the same values.

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One thought on “BBW 2011: To Kill a Mockingbird thoughts

  1. Che says:

    Quite true. I don’t see how a few words in a book can be so threatening to people. Especially in this case, when placed in their proper context. Every book is an opportunity for debate and discussion. I can never support banning books, although To Kill… isn’t one of my favorites.

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