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From my shelf to yours: banned books

Olivia Barone

Arts & Entertainment Editor

Books have been banned for their supposedly taboo content across the world. Community leaders create these restrictions to censor important texts written to enlighten their audiences and expose societal problems. Fortunately, Rhode Island has not yet seen a statewide ban on books, but oppressors are beginning to attack schools and campuses for their collections. From my bookshelf to yours, here are some of my favorite contraband books.

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury depicts a dystopian society set sometime after 2022. The protagonist, Guy Montag, lives in a futuristic version of the United States after two atomic wars, influenced by a severely oppressive government. The complete reinforcement of buildings against atomic weaponry has negated the need for firemen, so they have taken up a new responsibility: burning books. Ironically, one of the most banned books confronts a potential world wherein owning a book is a death sentence. This book was burned, along with other contraband publications, in South Africa between the late 1950s and 1970s and was recently banned in schools across Florida for supposed “vulgarity.” It seems Bradbury’s depiction of the future wasn’t so imaginative

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Art Spiegelman’s “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” is a retelling of his father’s experiences during World War II. Spiegelman’s father was a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor and his story unfolds throughout the graphic novel with Jews represented as mice and the Germans as cats and pigs. Despite its cartoony style, “Maus” covers the horrors that took place in 20th century Germany and serves as a reminder of one of their devastation. “Maus” was not only banned in Russia in 2015, but in a Tennessee school district this past year. Being the only graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize to date, “Maus” is otherwise renowned for its unique storytelling and its purpose as an ode to not only Spiegelman’s father, but all Holocaust victims.

Of the hundreds of books I’ve read, “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath is my favorite. A semi-autobiographical novel, Plath fictionalized her experiences as a female writer in the 1950s. She takes the form of protagonist Esther Greenwood, a college student on an internship in New York. Esther dreams of being a poet but struggles to find worth in pursuing her career after coming face to face with the male-dominated world. She experiences intense depression, for which she is poorly treated and admitted for electroconvulsive therapy. Due to the book’s overt rejection of stereotypical gender roles and harsh confrontation of mental health, “The Bell Jar” is banned across school districts in Indiana. It was deemed unsuitable for high school students despite the outstanding voice it provides young women.

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison is an eloquent confrontation of slavery tinged with magical realism. Morrison’s novel focuses on Sethe, an African American woman and former slave living in Ohio with her daughter, Denver. The story unfolds years after Sethe was forced to take her baby’s life to prevent them from slavery. Now, the ghost of the baby has returned, having possessed a woman who calls herself Beloved. Sethe is then tasked with loving Denver, teaching Beloved to love and learning to love herself despite her guilt. “Beloved” is banned in Kentucky, alongside several other books by Morrison that are considered contraband for the difficult topics they cover, from racism and sexism to mental health and abuse.

“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller adopts characters from Homer’s “Iliad.” Achilles, the son of King Peleus and a sea nymph, Thetis, is born with the prophecy that he will be a great hero but not without cost. Achilles’s new-found romance with the book’s protagonist, Patroclus, complicates his role as Greek’s hero and the pair are thrown into a whirlwind as the Trojan war unfolds. The novel has been banned from high schools in Missouri with many criticizing Miller for her retelling. “The Song of Achilles” is one of many queer books that have been censored for their content and it seems that the list is only growing.

The literary blacklist includes books from a range of genres and authors. Despite this wide pool, all of the stories targeted are written to broaden readers’ perspectives. Smuggle a new book onto your shelf to keep these important stories alive and enrich your world.



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