Arts & Culture, Featured

The Censorship of Literature: Banned for Content or for Politics?

In middle school I read a book trilogy called His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Although they’re labeled as young adult books there are themes that I didn’t understand the first time around, and these themes have caused a lot of controversy in the public sphere. As I’m rereading them I find that I’m seeing the books in an entirely different way.

I reread The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman over break and now I’m on book two of the trilogy. The main storyline has to do with the Church and original sin and how the Magisterium (the Church) believes they have found a way to prevent children from becoming sinners, though it involves a very horrific process. The Church is shown as riddled with corruption in all its forms, including kidnapping, lying, and even murder. The protagonist’s father is not religious, though he is not an atheist. He believes that God is not a spiritual being that cannot be directly accessed by man, so he is trying to raise an army of angels to topple God from power.

A few years back the book series was banned from school libraries because of the atheistic material, and when the movie came out there was protesting similar to what happened when the film version of The Da Vinci Code was released.

Book banning was first brought to my attention in 7th grade when our class was reading Kaffir Boy. There is a page in the novel that explicitly depicts the raping of young boys, and before we read the book we had to have our parent’s permission to allow us to read this passage since it was so explicit. If a child’s parent didn’t want them to read the passage, the child could go to the library and read something else. But one child’s parent read the passage and was horrified: she tried to get the book banned from the school completely. Even though I didn’t enjoy reading the explicit scene, and even though I was only twelve, I was infuriated that this woman was trying to tell me what I could and couldn’t read. As far as I was concerned, only my own mother could try to limit my exposure to explicit material.

I’ve always been adamantly opposed to the censorship of literature, and the concept of book banning seems utterly archaic to me. It is merely a remembrance of times in the past when the Church would strike down anything that had even the slightest chance of instigating blasphemous thoughts or actions. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business to prevent someone from reading what he or she wants to read. These works of literature are FICTION; no one is saying that their stories are fact. The Da Vinci Code never pretends to be the truth; it is merely exploring new ideas.

Wrongful censorship of material is a slap in the face to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Whatever happened to separation of Church and state? Why is everyone so afraid of a mass rebellion manifesting itself in response to a piece of work? In those cases of rebellions, literature was merely the spark that enflamed the unhappiness that had been brewing under the surface for years. It gives people the courage to finally voice their long-held discontent.

The reason for controversial ideas in literature is to get people thinking. Reading other ideas won’t always make us change our minds completely, they will merely make us ponder and evaluate our own beliefs. If you are so offended by another’s ideas and don’t want to read something, that is no one’s business but your own. You are welcome to write about your opinions, but don’t try to prevent others from reading the work that you take offence to. No one should be prevented from experiencing a piece of art; let them make up their own mind about it.


  1. Gabby Colavecchio

    I wholeheartedly agree. People in positions of authority can be paranoid of change, but they have no right to prevent changes in the mind because freedom of speech entails limitless, entirely unrestricted freedom of thoughts. Besides…once you ban a book, it just makes everyone want to read it.

  2. A very insightful piece, Danielle. That’s a big part of what is wrong with the world: People who think that because they don’t like something, YOU can’t have it either. I recently went to Amsterdam, which is very refreshing. I asked somebody, “Does it bother you to have these hashish bars all over the place?” to which my friend replied, “Not at all – I don’t smoke hash, but if somebody likes to smoke it, they should smoke it…”. (I realize that is not quite analogous to censorship, but I admired their culture of individual choice.) Good article!

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