The Lesson Book Censorship Can Teach Us

By Arianna Tabankin

Censorship is the suppression of information, in the form of speech, literature, art, etc, due to one believing it contains harmful, inappropriate, or conflicting ideas. Some of the earliest examples of censorship in the U.S. date back to Puritans banning books in Jamestown in the 17th century based on clashing religious beliefs (Atlas Obscura). Books have been subjected to censorship in the United States throughout its entire history, and this continues to happen today. While some people may see book censorship as a way of protecting people from “harmful” information and distressing ideas, it can have extremely negative consequences.

There are important values to be learned from literature, and those cannot always be relayed in a convenient and comfortable way. Ms. Wagner, a BHHS English teacher, says that when books are censored, people are “being denied access to knowledge, and that’s a dangerous thing, suppressing knowledge.” Literary works hold such valuable truths and wisdom that denying people the chance to learn them is truly a misfortune. Two examples of important books for Byram Hills students are Fahrenheit 451 and The Catcher in the Rye. Both of these works have experienced censorship issues due to their troubling content, like profanity and inappropriate scenes. However, their messages are such important ones to learn. Fahrenheit 451 shows us the value of freedom and the adverse effects of censorship, and The Catcher in the Rye speaks volumes about the harsh realities of life. It is necessary to acknowledge and understand the upsetting parts of life and history through literature so that we, as a society, can grow and evolve. 

Such a broad topic is, of course, situational, and there is a time and a place for everything. For example, Mrs. Salomone, an English teacher at BHHS, argues that by suppressing “any work that [preaches] hate … we choose to not give it a platform.” This is definitely a positive aspect of censorship. However, most literature that is suppressed is not censored for this reason, which is why it can become overpowering. 

Banned Book Week is an initiative taken to combat all of the censorship books experience in the United States. Its goal is to bring awareness to works that have been banned and challenged in the past. Mrs. Salomone describes this week as “a window into a historical record of books that have challenged readers and communities over a period of time.” The event is sponsored by multiple different organizations, such as the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of University Presses, and more, all wanting to celebrate the freedom to read. This year, it took place from September 27 to October 3. English teacher Mrs. Salvato describes this event as “a good way to raise awareness to some topics that are uncomfortable [by] continuing to read these works.” By drawing attention to significant books that have been suppressed in the past, we are allowing individuals, through their work, to touch, educate, and inspire more and more people. 2019’s list of Top Ten Banned books can be found here

I asked all three teachers what their favorite “banned” books were; Mrs. Salvato listed The Lord of the Flies, A Wrinkle in Time, and the works of Toni Morrison. Ms. Wagner loves I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings because of how it “opened [her] eyes to so many different kinds of things about race, about people who are concerned with being secure in their own homes, being judged for things that happened to them they have no control over. It was really valuable.” Two of Mrs. Salomone’s favorites to teach are The Catcher in the Rye and Beloved. These are some great reading recommendations, and if a book has dealt with censorship issues, there must be something important to learn from it.