Banned Books that Helped Shape America. Celebrate Your Right to Read.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
Perhaps the first great American novel that comes to the mind of the average person, The Great Gatsby chronicles the booze-infused and decadent lives of East Hampton socialites. It was challenged at the Baptist College in South Carolina because of the book’s language and mere references to sex.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
Harper Lee’s great American tome stands as proof positive that the censorious impulse is alive and well in our country, even today. For some educators, the Pulitzer-prize winning book is one of the greatest texts teens can study in an American literature class. Others have called it a degrading, profane and racist work that “promotes white supremacy.”
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951
Frequently removed from classrooms and school libraries because it is “unacceptable,” “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” “filthy,” and “undermines morality.” And to think Holden always thought “people never notice anything.”
Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961
A school board in Strongsville, OH refused to allow the book to be taught in high school English classrooms in 1972. It also refused to consider Cat’s Cradle as a substitute text and removed both books from the school library. The issue eventually led to a 1976 District Court ruling overturning the ban in Minarcini v. Strongsville.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939
Kern County, California has the great honor both of being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel and being the first place where it was banned (1939). Objections to profanity and sexual references continued from 1939 into the 1990s. It is a work with international banning appeal: the book was barred in Ireland in the 50s, and a group of booksellers in Turkey were taken to court for “spreading propaganda” in 1973.
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952
Ellison’s book won the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction because it expertly dealt with issues of Black Nationalism, Marxism and identity in the twentieth century. Considered to be too expert in its ruminations for some high schools, the book was banned from high school reading lists and schools in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington State.
Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940
Richard Wright’s landmark work of literary naturalism follows the life of young Bigger Thomas, a poor black man living on the south side of Chicago. Bigger is faced with numerous awkward and frustrating situations when he begins working for a rich white family as their chauffeur. After he unintentionally kills a member of the family, he flees but is eventually caught, tried and sentenced to death. The book has been challenged or removed in at least eight different states because of objections to “violent and sexually graphic” content.