“Fifty Shades of Grey: Revisiting Book Banning in America”

Controversy over E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, banned by several libraries in America due to its sexual content and eroticism, brings to light the topic of literary censorship and book banning, a well-debated issue throughout American history. Although James’s novel, one of a trilogy, has been criticized as poorly written and uncreative, its sexually explicit, erotic content brings to the forefront many questions reaching far beyond its covers: Do book banning and literary censorship infringe upon our First Amendment rights?  Can a nation or community dictate who can read what? At what point, if any, should governments and organizations have legitimate control over readers’ choices?  Where is the line drawn when delineating acceptable, appropriate reading material?

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, many of the books banned throughout America’s history have conquered their temporary critical restrictions to achieve status as literary classics, becoming a standard part of the language arts and literature curricula of middle schools, high schools, and universities throughout the nation.  Under the genre of young adult literature, some have even gone on to capture the prestigious Newbery Award for their significant contribution to children’s literature.

If not of the classics caliber, Fifty Shades of Grey at least encouraged me to review literature banned throughout American history that has gone on to impact learning and society, helping us to define and reconsider complex issues such as sexuality, freedom, maturation, self-identity, and self-evolution.

Here is just a sampling of books banned or censored at one level or another in America over the years, mostly due to content deemed by a particular organization as obscene, sexually explicit,  blasphemous, encouraging of alternative lifestyles, immoral, or racist:

A Clockwork Orange; A Farewell to Arms; Animal Farm; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; A Separate Peace; As I Lay Dying; Bible;  Brave New World; Bridge to Terabithia; Catch-22; Go Ask Alice; Harry Potter; Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Lord of the Flies; Moll Flanders; 1984; Of Mice and Men; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Call of the Wild; The Canterbury Tales; The Catcher in the Rye; The Color Purple; The Giver; The Grapes of Wrath; The Great Gatsby; The Great Gilly Hopkins; The Jungle; The Outsiders; To Kill a Mockingbird; Ulysses; and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

I know I read many of the above titles while in school.

Thoughts to consider: Would society grow and evolve without those who challenge and question its established norms and values, who shed light upon an alternative existence, new way of thinking, or foreign behavior, whether we agree or disagree with their presentations?  Does controversy sometimes pave the way for understanding and acceptance by exposing a reality beyond tradition and our comfort zone, stripping the unknown of perceived taboos?

Think about it.

Christa Riddle, All About Writing, Howell, NJ, www.allaboutwritingconsulting.com

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