Wednesday, September 24, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird Banned?

This week is Banned Books Week, which spotlights novels and literature that people have deemed unfit, primarily in the public school system. When most people think of a banned book, they think of something like James Joyce's Ulysses because of its historical significance. However, a quick review of books most sought to be banned includes the Harry Potter series, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, A Wrinkle in Time, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Lord of the Rings, and To Kill a Mockingbird. There are dozens upon dozens of books that have come under a ban scrutiny, but I mention these specifically because I read them all in high school or at an earlier age.

Two years ago, Marshall University mapped out reasons why 'Mockingbird' was challenged in schools across the country in recent years, mostly due to racist language and part of the plot that involves an alleged rape of a white female by a black man. When it comes to the language, I liken it to some degree to Disney banning their 1946 film "Song of the South" from the home video market. My generation knows the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" and characters of the film from the Splash Mountain water ride at Disney theme parks around the world, but we've never seen it. Maybe a clip or two at best. To be fair, many critics of the film blasted it for more than the language, namely the stereotyping of African-Americans. I detest the use of the n-word and it is horrific, but it was an accepted societal norm for the time. We should be able to explain or understand that words or expressions used back then are no longer accepted by society in general.

The 1962 film version of 'Mockingbird' is excellent as well, despite the sets obviously being on the Universal backlot in California. (When we viewed it in my freshman English class, my teacher liked to point out an early shot in the film that pans down to the Finch home and you can clearly see large mountains in the background that would be out of place in Alabama). As with most people who've seen the movie, I raved about Gregory Peck's Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch after I saw it, especially in regards to the final courtroom scene when he implores jurors not to convict his client, a black man accused of raping a white woman...

The scene is a landmark in cinema and has inspired many to get into the legal profession, but we wouldn't have had the scene without Lee's classic novel. It is my belief that because so many schools feature 'Mockingbird' in their curriculum, generations will now see the revolting ugliness of racism and seek changes for the better. Several of the books that people sought to ban like 'Catcher' and 'Mice and Men' I don't care for personally, but I would never seek a ban.

Is there a book that has been challenged to be banned that you've read and liked? 

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