Books Behind Bars: The Rise of Banning, Censorship, and Ignorance

Written by: Ignacio

Edited by: Jessica

Visual by: Mischka

On January 27, the McMinn County, Tennessee school board voted a unanimous 10-0 on the banning of Maus: a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel retelling of the holocaust. Through Maus, Art Spiegelman recounts his Polish-Jewish parent’s experiences throughout the holocaust, allowing classrooms a safe opportunity to teach and discuss the tragedies of the second world war. Banned due to its “language and nudity”, Spiegelman was left in “total bafflement”, calling the decision “myopic”, pointing at the larger problems behind banning books that go far past its language and illustrations.

The unfortunate reality is that Maus’ banning is just one of many, with the number of banned books continuing to increase. This comes as a result of ideas, scenes, or characters offending commonly held religious perspectives, senses of morality, and/or political views. Whatever the reason may be, whether it be graphic depictions of war from ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ or depictions of sexual behavior and drug abuse in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, what these books teach must not be ignored, much less banned.

Banned books teach lessons, educate readers on history, and prevent society from making the same mistakes we’ve already made. By banning books that aim for nothing more than providing a portrayal of reality, a reminder of a tragedy, or a warning of one to come, we will very well forget our mistakes. These books educate us, readers, on our past, present, and future as a society, teaching us the lessons we have learned through hundreds of years of trial and error. Banning these novels causes the many mistakes they warn of to find themselves back, as we grow ignorant of their teachings. Many outlawed novels provide readers with realistic, timely, and topical subjects that are instrumental in educating the next generation. Books are our method of passing knowledge, of communicating our learnings with those we may never meet, they allow us to grow into individuals with our own opinions and passions. By banning them, we are only stunting our own progress.

Instead, the best way of handling books containing sensitive content isn’t to censor them, but rather use them as learning tools to educate the young in an appropriate environment. To limit an author’s freedom of speech, or students’ right to knowledge because one’s scared of its content by no means justifies removing them from entire educational systems. It’s even more ironic that it’s this very same censorship that we’ve been warned about in banned books themselves.

Thus, to close, Bamboo Telegraph recommends you pick up a banned book and find out what all the fuss is about! Use these books to develop your own perspective, and learn from the messages it has to offer. Discover their teachings, uncover their messages, and most importantly, take into account the lessons left behind for you within them.

BT’s recommended list of banned books

Maus, a nonfiction graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, depicts the experiences of Spiefglemans family as a Polish-Jew holocaust survivor

The Red Badge of Courage, a war novel by Stephen Crane, taking place throughout the American Civil War, the story follows Henry Fleming, a young private of the Union

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming of age novel by Stephen Chbosky, follows charlie, a naive outsider coping with love, the suicide of his best friend, and his mental struggles.

Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, follows Guy Montag as he works as a firefighter, burning all sources of complexity, contradiction, and confusion to ensure unbothered happiness.

1984, a dystopian novel by George Orwell, explores the mass media control, surveillance, and totalitarian dictatorship that manipulates history and thoughts.

Animal Farm, a novella by George Orwell, features animals rebelling against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where they can be equal, free, and happy.

Lord of the Flies, a novel by Willaim Golding, follows a group of British boys on an uninhabited island and their bloody attempts at governance.

Of Mice and Men, a novella by John Steinbeck, narrates the experience of George Milton and Lennie Small, searching for jobs during the great depression in the United States.

The Catcher in the Rye, a coming-of-age novel by J.D. Salinger, follows Holden Caulfields’ struggles through New York in search of truth in the phoniness of the adult world.

Happy reading, Bearcats!