There are plenty of books that children shouldn’t read. In fact, there are an abundance that adults probably shouldn’t read – but does that mean we should ban them? At its core, the practice of banning books is a form of censorship – whether from a political, legal, religious, moral, or even a commercial standpoint. What is the point of consuming literature if not to open our minds and expand to new ways of thinking?
Scrolling through lists of books that were either banned or censored at some point (some still are) it is difficult, from a 21st-century perspective at least, to fathom just what led governments to classify these works as “indecent”.
Most frequently, books have been banned for either portraying homosexuality or supporting/criticising political systems such as capitalism and communism. These novels did not conform with deeply ingrained hegemonic ideals in society, and thus the “easiest” option was to ban them completely.
As aforementioned, LGBTQ+ characters and themes are regularly among the list of banned books. Although it was not banned, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was heavily censored, with the original version being used as evidence against Wilde when he faced trial for “consensual homosexual acts”. Homosexuality was a grievous taboo at this time in the UK, it was not decriminalised until 1967.
In the US, Steven Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (one of the most popular YA novels of the 2000s) was also banned in several states for portraying homosexuality – despite the only gay character being a supporting one.
Novels that deal with the issue of racism (The Colour Purple, Heart of Darkness, To Kill a Mockingbird) were all banned in various countries at one point. However, the fact that these books often feature on high school reading lists shows these are fundamental in developing an understanding of racism, colonialism, and the struggles Black people face. Harper Lee’s novel is still banned in many southern states in the US, demonstrating that racism is still deeply ingrained in society.
Other famous banned books that frequent reading lists include Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Brave New World. All of these books remain incredibly important today, with stark contrasts available to the political landscape in both the US and the UK today. Without novels such as these, we would have no exposure to the consequences of particular political actions and have a limited understanding of them.