The Argus Reads: Banned Books Edition

Five works of controversy-causing literature 

Compiled by Sam Mathers, News Editor

  1. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

“The moments like these, the passing doubts, were the temptations that caught you if you were not careful.”

PC: Kaelen Pelaia

Why You Should Read It: For the more hardened of readers, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Naked and the Dead – a grisly account of the horrors of war from a first-hand perspective. Based on author Norman Mailer’s experiences in the Philippines during World War II, the novel depicts American soldiers’ assault on an island to drive out the Japanese garrison and open the way for advancement into the Philippines. Told in four parts, the novel follows the individual lives, histories, and tragedies of the individual soldiers in the platoon. The story is deeply personal, emphasizing the impact war has on individuals and their families, and how it is always for the worse. The Naked and the Dead, despite its merits, accolades, and positive reception, was banned by both the government of Canada and the United Kingdom after appeals from conservative groups in both countries protested the book’s ample use of particularly vulgar language, even after the author published successive editions, replacing the oft-maligned ‘f’ word with ‘fug’. However, the ban was lifted in 1996, and Canadians now have the opportunity to experience this piece of classic literature for themselves.

  • Kaelen Pelaia, Staff Writer
  1. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

PC: Sam Mathers

Why You Should Read It: Anne Frank’s diary has been highly controversial since its publication in 1947. In the late 1950s, various claims began circulating that the diary was a forgery and that Anne Frank herself never actually existed, or that it was written as pro-Jewish propaganda. Since the 1980s, it has been challenged and banned in schools due to some sexual content, particularly a passage in the definitive edition in which she describes the female anatomy which parents have called “pornographic.” In 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee attempted to ban the book because it is “a real downer.” Though a sadness looms within its pages, Anne has a profound wisdom that goes beyond her years; she is honest and often funny, her words a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I first learned of Anne Frank in the third grade. I owned a children’s version of her story that captivated me, despite not being able to fully understand the gravity of it. The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most important pieces of literature to come out of the 20th century and is one of the most important books in my life.

  • Sam Mathers, News Editor
  1. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

“That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?”

PC: Geena Mortfield

Why You Should Read It: This short story, along with all of Ernest Hemingway’s material, was burned in Nazi Germany in 1933 for “being a monument of modern decadence.” More recently, Hills Like White Elephants was banned from a New Hampshire High School course in 2010 after numerous parents raised complaints that its subject matter of abortion and drug use promoted “bad behavior” and a “political agenda” which made it unsuitable to be part of classroom teachings. But you won’t hear any of that from me; this is four pages of potently tight prose and literature pared down to only its essentials—the Hemingway signature style at its best.

  • Geena Mortfield, Copy Editor
  1. 1984 by George Orwell

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

PC: Katie Zugic

Why You Should Read It: Written by George Orwell in 1949, 1984 is a dystopian novel that has been ranked as the fifth most challenged book in history. In the U.S.S.R., Stalin held book burning ceremonies where 1984 was deemed to be anti-communism, and those who were found reading it were arrested. The book was only allowed back in the country after 1990. It has also been banned across many U.S. school boards since the 1950s, resulting in the firing of several teachers for refusing to remove it from their reading lists. In Jackson County, FL, it was banned for being pro-communism. As controversial as 1984 seems to be, I consider it an essential read. It seems as if Orwell’s dystopia – which was conceived almost 70 years ago, suddenly feels all too familiar; Big Brother is always listening in, technology makes it impossible to hide from the “thought police,” and a government which seems to suggest that reality is not “something objective, external, existing in its own right” — but rather, “whatever the Party holds to be truth.”

  • Katie Zugic, Media Assistant
  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.”

PC: Savanah Tillberg

Why You Should Read It: As a part of a grade nine reading assignment, I was introduced to the fascinating life of Huckleberry Finn and to my surprise, discovered that this novel was banned in school across the United States. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn follows the story of a young runaway named Huck Finn who sails down the Mississippi River with a runaway slave named Jim. In Twain’s novel, the two friends find themselves in numerous risky and exciting adventures, with each one revealing more and more of each character’s personal history. Until the 1990s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remained one of the top five most contested books in the U.S.A. Since its initial publication in the 1880s, the expulsion of Twain’s novel has been justified on the grounds of poor grammar, offensive language, and derogatory slurs. However, educators across the globe argue that Twain’s novel acts as important tool for recognizing the systemic racial prejudices held preceding, during, and succeeding the time of its publication.

  • Savanah Tillberg, Arts and Culture Editor