Banned: Books, Politics, and Identity


Zoe A. '24

Banned Books Illustration

Helena P. '24, Narrative Writer

I remember in middle school when my teachers called our entire class in. It was a sunny crisp September morning: the day that they gave us a lesson on 9/11. Throughout my three years in middle school, there were several current events classes, notably about school shootings and the wake of George Floyd, in all these cases teachers told us that parents had requested they not advise their students on troubling current events and to leave them ignorant. It was my then Social Studies teacher, who offered this advice:

“You can protect your kids from the world, or you can teach and advise so that they understand others’ experiences.”

We read a series of books and writers throughout my time in middle school, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The 57 Bus, Ray Bradbury: it was only later when I learned that most of these works and authors had at some point or still were facing banes throughout the country. It turns out that not only will adults govern what their children may learn, they will govern what their children read. 

Book banning is historic: it happens for a variety of reasons, it ranges from pulling novels off shelves to burning them. What is its intention? Is it ever justified, is it criminal? Is it better to protect the children or to teach them? 

In the United States, book banning could be traced back to early colonial times. It began with religious material: a Christian pamphlet, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, that outraged Puritan Calvinists who denounced the writer, William Pynchon, burned his pamphlet, and banned it. Only four copies of his work remain today. The abolitionist’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was banned and burned, in Maryland, a free Black minister, Sam Green, was even sentenced to 10 years in prison for simply owning a copy. Furthermore, laws criminalized writings about sexuality and birth control until 1936, any work considered obscene, such as the writings of James Joyce, was banned, even Hemingway’s, A Farewell to Arms, was described by censors as, “a darling morsel of literary filth.” 

Jim Crow banned children’s books, that even merely suggested interracial marriage, in the1950s any book perpetuating Communism or socialism faced risk. However, several schools and public librarians fought back against the attempts to ban books including: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and even The Canterbury Tales.

There was great struggle, in a seemingly lawless territory, until something remarkable happened. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Tinker vs. Des Moines, that “neither teachers nor students shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The court would later, in 1982, specifically address schoolbooks when students sued a school board that removed works by authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Langston Hughes, for being “anti-American. It ruled in Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, that “local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Nevertheless, the challenges persisted, as there remains an attempt to control the readings of children. 

While certain American classics found their place on the shelves, other old and forthcoming classics fought to exist. The free speech group PEN found that more than 1,600 titles were banned between July 2021 and June 2022. To Kill a Mockingbird, remains one of the most controversial novels with reasons for banning including, containing sexual content, strong language, the n-word, following a white savior trope, and even simply for making people “uncomfortable.” Toni Morrison’s, Bluest Eye, faces similar repercussions for covering child abuse and sexual assault. What is most apparent with modern book banning is the influx of restricting books due to LGBTQIA+ content, often with justifications such as “sexual” or “pornographic”. 

The range for reasoning remains prolific, often conservatives are thought of as book banners, though liberals have held out objections to notable works of literature: The Hate U Give, is banned in some communities for being “anti-police”, while, Of Mice and Men, is banned for containing racial slurs and racist stereotypes. The only remaining trend is the outlawing of a sensitive, seemingly controversial topic, some might consider difficult to digest.

That’s the rub isn’t it; regardless of political division there always remains opposition to some sort of text, but what is most apparent is how each side wishes to have some authority over what their children consume intellectually. 

I still do not fully understand why, in middle school, my peer’s parents did not want us to know about 9/11, shootings, and hate crimes, but I do understand that this experience is not unique. There has always been censorship and political agenda, but it has, in many a sense, never been as pervasive as it is now. The Director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, remarked, “there’s always been a steady hum of censorship, and the reasons have shifted over time. But I’ve never seen the number of challenges we’ve seen this year.” Perhaps it is because the US has never been in a more literary affluent status, with the likes of social media and the internet, creating a bigger selection of writing to begin with.  

With that, I propose two scenarios to live out: the first a world of algorithmic information, communities tailor their children’s beliefs through the titles on the shelves, we keep our voices loud and our ears plugged, we remove a challenge of thought. Conservatives ban progressive material and in exchange liberals ban conservative material, such as religious text, to maintain a balance. 

The second one is a little more radical, nothing is banned, at least not without very strong reasoning, we keep titles from all sorts of eras, opinions, and peoples but we give, children, people, the resources to understand those writings: we aspire critical analysis and thought, if something contains sensitive material we do not require it for certain demographics and include content warnings. I think part of the reason we are opposed to progressive or challenging or uncomfortable texts is our own immaturity. Many adults remember how helpless and innocent they were as children, and they fear for their own children, but censorship doesn’t make that matter disappear, it only furthers our ignorance. MA’s own Derek Anderson wrote, “I firmly believe that people, including high school students, have the right to read what they want to read.  It is not my job to subscribe to a student’s curiosity.  Rather, my job is to cultivate curiosity as best I can”. 

With that I invite you to browse your local library or bookstore’s banned books section, write your controversial pieces, and spark your own intellectual curiosity. 


Blakemore, Erin. “The history of book bans -and their changing target-in the US.” Sept. 6, 2022, National Geographic.

“Top Ten Most Challenged Book Lists.” Banned & Challenged Books, updated annually.

Little, Becky. “Why, To Kill a Mockingbird, keeps getting banned.” Original Oct. 16, 2017. Updated, Dec. 19, 2019, History.

Harris, Elizabeth A. “Advocacy Groups Are Helping Drive a Rise in Book Bans.” Sept. 19, 2022, New York Times. 

Goldberg, Michele. “A Frenzy of Book Banning.” Nov. 12, 2021, New York Times.