Banned Books: Classic Books Still Teach Us Valuable Lessons

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a novel that was first published in 1960. In the years that followed, this book became a bestseller. The novel was later added into school curricula, making this classic novel required reading for many students. However, this novel has been met with controversy over whether or not a novel that uses strong language and discusses sensitive topics has a place in today’s schools.

To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated from the perspective of a young girl, Jean Louise Finch (Scout) who is six years old. The novel follows her for a period of several years as she grows up with her older brother Jem, her father Atticus, and their housekeeper Calpurnia. The first part of the novel describes childhood antics with Jem and their friend Dill, a precocious young visitor from Mississippi. Part two follows a trial that brings out a particularly ugly side of Maycomb, different from the one presented in the first. Scout’s world is badly shaken when her father Atticus is appointed to defend a black man accused of rape by a white woman in a case that puts the whole town at odds with the Finch family.

This is where themes of justice, inequality and racism are displayed in a way that has readers relating to the emotions that characters experience. This novel also features many beloved characters such as Atticus Finch, a man who is not afraid to stand up for what is right while teaching his children (and readers) lessons that last a lifetime.

Since the 1960’s, only a few years after the book was published, a community in Virginia tried to ban the book, claiming that it contained immoral content. Harper Lee famously countered this in an open letter to the editor of a local newspaper. Following her letter, the community reversed their decision. Challenges continued over the years over the book’s use of racial slurs and the sensitive nature of the court case. Lee’s portrayal of southern life has also offended many readers in that part of the nation. Several communities have tried to ban it from libraries while others have tried to ban it from school curriculums. The town of Biloxi, Mississippi recently removed Mockingbird from its 8th grade curriculum. Several of these bans have been driven by the argument that there are better contemporary works that teach the same lessons without as much offending content. To Kill a Mockingbird includes several lessons that are still relevant in today’s society while giving readers a look back into history that cannot be ignored. Harper Lee accomplishes this in a novel that is above all, a truly enjoyable read.

 

The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

The Harry Potter series, written by J.K Rowling, is one most people are familiar with. Harry Potter is a wizard in a world much like our own, where the world of witchcraft and wizardry is hidden from the ‘muggles,’ or people without magic. Harry is known as ‘the boy who lived’. This is because the antagonist, Voldemort, tried and failed to kill him as an infant. This marks Harry as Voldemort’s enemy, as he wants to finish what he started so many years ago.

The plot of the series, which spans seven books, may seem harmless. However, the concept of witchcraft found in the novels has sparked controversy. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, 13 states attempted to ban the Harry Potter series, and several individual schools did the same. The Holy Family Catholic School in Illinois banned the books on the basis of separation of church and state, a law stating that the government cannot favor a single religion, or prevent people from practicing another. Because of this, public schools cannot preach a particular religion to its students. The law leads some schools to ban the Harry Potter series, as witchcraft is a recognized religion and is the focal point of the series.

Separation of church and state has done great things to encourage freedom of religion, but using it as justification to ban the Harry Potter series may be taking things a bit too far. Witchcraft today is practiced in many different ways, but none of those ways correspond with its portrayal in the Harry Potter series. According to witchvox.com, a website that has provided information on the practice of Witchcraft as a religion for over 20 years, “Witchcraft is a Path with depth. It can not be summed up in “25 words or less””. People who practice witchcraft do not shapeshift and teleport like the Harry Potter characters do. They worship their gods and follow moral guidelines outlined by their religion. The Harry Potter series is not portraying witchcraft as a religion, but as a make-believe concept. The presence of witchcraft in the novels is merely an interesting fantastical plot point.

The Harry Potter series should not be banned from public schools because it teaches valuable lessons to young children. The series has taught kids about the difference between bravery and confidence, the value of strong friendships, and the rewards of facing their fears for years. These books have sparked imagination in young readers, as they wish to have the magical powers Harry and his friends do. The series can also be used to teach students about plot, character development, and the difference between good and evil in literature, all of which are taught in a classroom setting. Perhaps most importantly, the Harry Potter books have taught kids to love to read. Taking such a didactic and overall enjoyable series from public schools is not justified.

 

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of classic American literature, but it received a widespread ban in the early 2000s due to vulgar language, discussion of harsh themes like racism euthanization, and violence against women and people of color.

The novella tells the story of George and Lenny, two migrant workers traveling across the American South during the Great Depression in search of work. George, who serves as a sort of caretaker to Lenny, must keep his friend out of trouble. When he fails to keep Lenny in his life, George’s world quickly unravels as he tries to protect Lenny from the harsh way he would be treated if his true IQ level and his constant need for care was discovered.

While there is quite strong language and hard themes to explain in Of Mice and Men, these real world issues need to be talked about. Older students need to be introduced to these social issues so they know how to handle them, and a story such as this provides a structured way to reveal to students the harsher parts of reality. Themes like racism, sexism, and mental illness are issues that can be much easier to discuss and understand when first read in a book instead of when a student may witness it first hand.

As well as its ability to describe severe topics in a easy-to-explain manner, the character of Lenny serves as an example of a person with a mental disability. The way that Steinbeck crafts Lenny demonstrates him as a gentle, friendly character who just lacks the capacity to own his own strength. Both at the time this book was released and now, the character serves to show the lack stereotypes and stigmas related to mental illnesses.

Of Mice and Men should not be banned for its portrayal of timeless themes and real world problems that are still relevant in today’s world. The way the novella introduces and addresses these problems is a sensible and thoughtful way to introduce students to some of the harsh realities they’ll have to deal with in the real world.