Book banning: from Lord of the Flies to The Great Gatsby

Book banning: from Lord of the Flies to The Great Gatsby

In a world where freedom of speech, access to information and multiculturalism are so prevalent, we may assume that what we can read is limitless. This is not the case.

Book banning — the attempt to censor what people can read — is currently the most widespread form of censorship in the United States, with 1,915 challenges to unique titles documented between January and August in the US this year (ALA, 2023).

So, why are books banned? Why is this such a contentious issue? And what is being done to prevent it?

Book banning occurs when themes within a book are considered inflammatory, offensive or misleading by a group of people. It is not a modern phenomenon and has happened in various cultures over centuries.

According to Britannica, In 213 BCE, the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang burnt all books that didn’t concern medicine, agriculture or Huang himself, with the view of removing any trace of the previous regime.

Nowadays, it tends to be children’s literature that is censored, with 1,500 books banned in schools across the US in the last 6 months of 2022 (Statista, 2023). For example, the most challenged books of the 21st century, according to the ALA, are the Harry Potter books — the best-selling book series of all time with over 600 million copies sold.

However, not everyone loves them; some consider them misleading, guilty of glamorising witchcraft or leading children astray. So, they believe granting children access to such books is potentially dangerous for them.

However, the Harry Potter series is not the only iconic book or series turned victim of book banning.

Some of the most banned books of all time include The Catcher in The Rye (banned for being vulgar and full of violence and sexuality); The Great Gatsby (banned for sex, violence and language); Lord of the Flies (banned for implying that in a state of nature, if desperate anyone would kill); and even Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (banned in China because animals speaking like humans was seen as insulting to humans). 

In the last year, the most banned books include Tricks (banned for overly sexual content), Flamer (banned for its depiction of LGBTQIA+ experiences) and Gender Queer: A Memoir (banned for its sexually explicit nature and cartoons).

Book banning is not only contentious because of issues including freedom of speech, access to information or protecting children, but it is also controversial because of who is censored.

Book banning disproportionately affects titles written by authors from historically marginalised communities. 

In their discovery of 1,915 challenged titles, The ALA found that most challenges were against books written by or about a person of colour or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

This is problematic for the authors affected and for readers who don’t have access to books that resonate with them. 

The first week of October marks Banned Books Week, a week which aims to highlight the importance of freedom of information and free speech, by making a stand against book censorship.

Banned Books Week implores everyone to do at least one thing to take a stand against book censorship, such as calling a library board member or volunteering at your local library. 

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