These Are the Books That Were Banned the Decade You Were Born
Are books dangerous? You might be surprised! Check out the masterpieces, bestsellers, and picture books across the decades that got people riled up.
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What gets a book banned?
According to the American Library Association, books are usually banned or challenged for reasons that are guided by good intentions. Book banners are driven “to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information.” However, censorship can be harmful, especially if the desire to ban a book stems from protecting one’s own beliefs if a book conflicts with them. Books usually get banned or challenged due to sexually explicit content or offensive language. These challenges often come from parents groups, governments, religious groups, school districts, and even libraries. Read on to see the surprising books that people have found offensive across the decades. Even the dictionary got banned—along with these 19 books you’d never guess were offensive.
1950s: The Wizard of Oz
What could be offensive about Frank L. Baum’s classic and beloved children’s novel? Turns out most of the complaints have to do with the book’s presentation of strong female protagonist—and also the witchcraft. Libraries in Michigan and Florida banned the book during the 1950s. As one report puts it, complaints included, “that the inclusion of a good witch is theologically impossible, because witchcraft is bad and, therefore, a good witch could not exist.” The Wicked Witch actually has a much smaller role in the book than the movie according to these 56 weird and wonderful facts about The Wizard of Oz.
1950s: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
D.H. Lawrence’s novel is as much about class conflicts as it is sexuality. The novel’s scandalous plot involves a woman who not only has an affair (under her husband’s advice due to his war injury,) but does so with the couple’s household employee. Her husband is incensed by her lowly choice. The gamekeeper ends up offering Lady Chatterley a sexual awakening that her paralyzed husband could not. The novel was banned in Britain throughout the 1950s, and generally considered risque and indecent. When a court removed the ban in 1960, much of the book’s salaciousness was no longer a social taboo.
George Orwell’s dystopian novel introduced the panoptic and oppressive Big Brother to the world when it was published in 1949. It was banned in Communist Russia by 1950 due to its satirical presentation of an authoritarian regime. Owning a copy was reason for arrest during that time period due to the novel’s purported anti-communist views. Copies were burned. Can you believe that 1984 was almost titled The Last Man in Europe? Check out these other classic novels that almost ended up with disastrously bad titles.
Vladimir Nabokov’s scathing critique of post-war American culture was recognized as both a masterpiece and an abomination. The story follows pedophile Humbert Humbert as he manipulates and abuses the young adolescent girl Lolita after the death of her mother. The subject matter and plot focus on sex with a minor, and though the book doesn’t endorse the practice, the novel was banned in France and England due to obscenity throughout the 1950s. Not surprisingly, Lolita is one of the 13 most controversial books of all time.
1950s: Howl and Other Poems
Allen Ginsburg’s radical and oppositional poem became the subject of an obscenity trial in 1957. The book’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, went to court over claims that the poem was indecent and immoral. Though the judge ruled against the claims, the book gained a reputation for its defiant stance on America culture and politics. The poem still remains controversial today and emblematizes the Beat poet’s aesthetic and generation. Have you read the beat generation novel On the Road yet? Check out Jack Kerouac’s classic and 19 more books you really should have read by now.
1950s: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain’s classic American novel is frequently considered one of the greatest books of all-time. The narrative follows a slave, Jim, escaping horrific bondage, and the young boy Huck. Both characters head down the Mississippi River on a raft. The book often incites claims of racism—it has excessive use of the n-word. Critics also argue that the novel seems to engage in racism, rather than presenting it as a problem. These troubling representations with regard to race often get the novel banned. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer is one of America’s 100 favorite novels.
1950s: The Sun Also Rises
Frequently taught in English classes, The Sun Also Rises is considered one of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpieces. The story follows an expatriate, Jake on his postwar adventures traveling in Spain and pursuing a British divorcee Brett. The novel was burned in Germany after publication but also banned later in the United States for its portrayal of promiscuity and a decadent, frivolous lifestyle. That was Hemingway’s mode—here are 12 quotes from the manly author that will inspire you to live boldly.
1960s: Naked Lunch
Published in 1959 to immediate controversy, William Burroughs surreal and episodic satire became the center of an obscenity trial in Massachusetts—the State Supreme Court there eventually reversed its ban. The novel is considered both an important masterpiece, but also a book filled with vile, disturbing content that presents the worst of humanity. One judge called the book “literary sewage.” It was adapted into a film in 1991 by director David Cronenberg who’s known for horror films that push the boundaries of the grotesque.
1960s: The Catcher in the Rye
According to the American Library Association, a high school teacher was fired in 1960 for assigning J.D. Salinger’s classic novel to an 11th grade English class. Though the teacher was later reinstated, the book remained banned at the school. The Catcher in the Rye has always been beset with controversy. It’s most often criticized for being obscene and featuring profane language. The narrator Holden Caufield has a distinct voice that is part of the novel’s status as a great work of art. Though he uses profanity, Caufield’s voice captures the depressive, apathetic, yet also compassionate nature of adolescence. The Catcher in the Rye actually got a lousy review when it was first published and is one of the 13 classic novels that didn’t impress critics at all.