To Kill a Mockingbird: Banned Books That Shaped America

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The list of authors of frequently and recently banned books reads is very similar to the New York Times Best Seller list: Alexi Sherman, Dr. Seuss, John Green, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Anne Frank, Alice Walker, Stephen Chbosky, William Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kurt Vonnegut, Augusten Burroughs, and J. D. Salinger. Access to their works is being fought by small fringe groups that want to censor what you can experience. Their agendas vary, but are similar in their desired outcome: control of knowledge. No one is requiring them to read Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, but they want to stop you from having the choice of reading it. Do not let scared small-minded individuals create your world. Fight censorship!

The Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015, as recorded by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), are:

1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
6. The Holy Bible Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

This book has quite possibly the very best opening page that I have ever read, it draws you in, creates a mystery, and makes you want to know everything.  Even if the rest of the book was a complete brick, that first initial burst of energy would be enough to propel the story for the next several hundred pages.  Buy a used copy of this book, reacquaint yourself with Scout and the rest of the characters, then give it to someone you know will love it.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960

Harper Lee’s great American tome stands as proof positive that the censorious impulse is alive and well in our country, even today. For some educators, the Pulitzer-prize winning book is one of the greatest texts teens can study in an American literature class. Others have called it a degrading, profane and racist work that “promotes white supremacy.”

Scout Finch lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, in the sleepy Alabama town of Maycomb. Maycomb is suffering through the Great Depression, but Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off in comparison to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood for the summer, and the trio acts out stories together. Eventually, Dill becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside.

Scout goes to school for the first time that fall and detests it. She and Jem find gifts apparently left for them in a knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Dill returns the following summer, and he, Scout, and Jem begin to act out the story of Boo Radley. Atticus puts a stop to their antics, urging the children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments. But, on Dill’s last night in Maycomb for the summer, the three sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan Radley shoots at them. Jem loses his pants in the ensuing escape. When he returns for them, he finds them mended and hung over the fence. The next winter, Jem and Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo. Nathan Radley eventually plugs the knothole with cement. Shortly thereafter, a fire breaks out in another neighbor’s house, and during the fire someone slips a blanket on Scout’s shoulders as she watches the blaze. Convinced that Boo did it, Jem tells Atticus about the mended pants and the presents.

To the consternation of Maycomb’s racist white community, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman. Because of Atticus’s decision, Jem and Scout are subjected to abuse from other children, even when they celebrate Christmas at the family compound on Finch’s Landing. Calpurnia, the Finches’ black cook, takes them to the local black church, where the warm and close-knit community largely embraces the children.

Atticus’s sister, Alexandra, comes to live with the Finches the next summer. Dill, who is supposed to live with his “new father” in another town, runs away and comes to Maycomb. Tom Robinson’s trial begins, and when the accused man is placed in the local jail, a mob gathers to lynch him. Atticus faces the mob down the night before the trial. Jem and Scout, who have sneaked out of the house, soon join him. Scout recognizes one of the men, and her polite questioning about his son shames him into dispersing the mob.

At the trial itself, the children sit in the “colored balcony” with the town’s black citizens. Atticus provides clear evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying: in fact, Mayella propositioned Tom Robinson, was caught by her father, and then accused Tom of rape to cover her shame and guilt. Atticus provides impressive evidence that the marks on Mayella’s face are from wounds that her father inflicted; upon discovering her with Tom, he called her a whore and beat her. Yet, despite the significant evidence pointing to Tom’s innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. The innocent Tom later tries to escape from prison and is shot to death. In the aftermath of the trial, Jem’s faith in justice is badly shaken, and he lapses into despondency and doubt.

Despite the verdict, Bob Ewell feels that Atticus and the judge have made a fool out of him, and he vows revenge. He menaces Tom Robinson’s widow, tries to break into the judge’s house, and finally attacks Jem and Scout as they walk home from a Halloween party. Boo Radley intervenes, however, saving the children and stabbing Ewell fatally during the struggle. Boo carries the wounded Jem back to Atticus’s house, where the sheriff, in order to protect Boo, insists that Ewell tripped over a tree root and fell on his own knife. After sitting with Scout for a while, Boo disappears once more into the Radley house.

Later, Scout feels as though she can finally imagine what life is like for Boo. He has become a human being to her at last. With this realization, Scout embraces her father’s advice to practice sympathy and understanding and demonstrates that her experiences with hatred and prejudice will not sully her faith in human goodness.

Source: Books That Shaped America | National Book Festival – Library of Congress

Source: Banned Books Week | Banned & Challenged Books

Source: Banned Books Week | Celebrating the Freedom to Read: September 25- October 1, 2016

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