These banned classics still have something to say

Illustration by Dot Martin

Classical literature carries much of the world’s weight within its pages. It often depicts stories that, while fictional, are stories that need to be told. 

Many of these stories are deemed “too much” and can be challenged by anyone ranging from local Facebook groups to the nonprofit organization “Moms for Liberty,” a national-level organization that now has over 200 chapters.

“Moms for Liberty” is a growing organization built to “unite parents who are ready to fight those that stand in the way of liberty,” according to their website, “ They recently made headlines on Fox for revolting against the teachings of critical race theory for K-12 students.

Historically, banned books were dismissed for their content from a rather narrow point of view. Although there is something to learn from banned books, they tell the stories of those who dared to write beyond the guidelines provided for them. They tell more than the story displayed among the pages. The admiration of these novels have allowed them to be more widely accepted as time progressed and can be found in Idaho public libraries. 

A great example of a captivating piece of banned classical literature is Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” This novel, still banned in Indiana, was published in 1961 and depicts the life of college-aged student Esther Greenwood and her dream of becoming a poet. The book, despite being nearly 62 years old, still contains relatable elements for today’s audience.

“The Bell Jar” is filled with mesmerizing quotes that college students can resonate with such as: “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.” 

Plath puts the average college student’s feelings into words, the ache to know what you want and the overwhelming life that follows you as a young adult and the fear of rejecting your own identity for the hopes of others. 

This untraditional classic was banned in 1977 for not only its profanity and sexuality but for its overt rejection of the woman’s role as wife and mother. Simply ahead of its time, the piece is sure to resonate with any confused young adult.

Another controversial classic piece of literature is Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” 

This fast-paced novel was published in 1929 and details the life of German-born, 19-year-old Paul Baumer. Baumer, heavily influenced by the political propaganda that ensued during World War I, enlists in the military and discovers the reality of war. 

This book is a violently beautiful piece that demands the attention of its readers. European countries banned soldiers from reading it, removed it from libraries or banned the novel entirely due to its anti-war and pacifistic content.

Despite its success, or perhaps because of it, Remarque lost his German citizenship and was forced into exile. 

This book is devastatingly truthful of the horrors of war, filled with tear-jerking quotes such as “we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.” 

History buffs looking for a story that depicts the truth behind war and violence will find answers between the pages of this classic.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” has also been adapted into film, once in 1979 and again 2022. The film loosely follows the novel but still relays the message Remarque tells in this harrowing story. Readers looking for a more visual adaptation either before or after they dive into the novel itself will find just that within these films.

Another notorious classic is J.D. Sallingers “Catcher in the Rye.” The book follows rebellious student Holden Caulfield after being expelled from his prestigious boarding school. Fans of unreliable narrators and coming-of-age novels will find just that within this short book.

[Posters featuring “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Bell Jar.”]
Illustration by Dot Martin

Published in 1951, the book was quickly challenged and eventually banned for its content. It is still continuously challenged to this day. Though the depiction of angst, sexuality, frustration and the inevitability of growing up can come across as easily relatable to young adults. 

Sallinger filled this novel with rather informal quotes that often feel as if they’ve been plucked from the average young adult’s mind, such as “I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”

The bans on these books are not anomalies. From 2021 to 2022, nearly 1,600 books have been banned, most for their content regarding race, sexuality or religion. The censorship of literature often feels like a thing of the past. However, we are living it every day in the U.S.

Some states are still actively fighting against the implementation of sexual identity and race theory in school curriculums, going as far as holding teachers and librarians legally responsible should a child read about it.

Idaho is one of the many states that still has active book bans, with titles like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Looking for Alaska” being just a few of those forbidden from public schools.

The censorship of literature is dangerous. Denying the connection to “controversial” ideas is how narrow minds form. There is power in seeing the dark side of the world around us and taking part in the stories that derive from it.

Sallinger, Plath, and Remarque dared to write beyond the norms. Their stories outlived the bans and challenges for a reason that can only be seen once they are read. These three short novels are just a small fraction of the banned books that continue to leave an impact with their powerful messages.

Readers must read beyond what is deemed “appropriate.” You may be surprised to see how much of yourself you read between the pages of what is banned.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Shelly

    Wonderful article! This is informative, well written and leaves me with the desire to pick up a classic to read and share.

  2. Kevin Perry

    Such a great article. The last part, “Readers must read beyond what is deemed “appropriate.” You may be surprised to see how much of yourself you read between the pages of what is banned.” Makes me want to also read what has been banned in order to learn more!

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