Banned Books Awareness: Censorship is really about an escape from the truth


TwainLiterature marks the times. Whether an epic historical fiction or a dime store yarn, a novel reflects the time in which it is published as much as it does the period it is set in.

The intricacy and subject matter of the literature we enjoy also evolves with us as we learn and grow; from the days of A Cat in the Hat, through A Wrinkle in Time, to Tom Sawyer, Harry Potter, and beyond to when, as adults, we can look fondly at those stories from our youth while we enthrall ourselves in the latest whodunit by John Grisham, or peer into the saucy side of life with Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Harry Potter series, for example, grew to become more complex with each new title. The characters, the challenges, and the themes evolved along with the reader through the years at Hogwarts building to the grand climax. Those who were fortunate to grow up alongside the release of each book hold a special affinity for the series.

So how would those readers, many of whom are now young adults, feel if someone came along and decided to start rewriting the series with the red pen of political correctness?

You see, all of the titles mentioned so far in this column have one thing in common- they’ve all been censored or banned.

Imagine spending a snowy afternoon comfortably under a blanket, coffee at the side, and ready to embrace yourself in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer once again. It’s a timeless classic enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult. Unforgettable scenes such as when Tom swindles out of painting Aunt Polly’s fence by convincing everyone foolish enough to walk by that it’s an honor to spend a Saturday that way was just genius and I would wonder if I would get away with something like that. Not only did he get out of doing the work himself, but he also profits from it, winning a pocketful of such riches as a dead rat on a string, a half-eaten apple, a knife handle, and four pieces of orange peel.

Hey, don’t knock it. As a boy, I would have been happy with that kind of loot.

But just as you’re about to smile at the scene of Tom’s payoff you notice something that shocks your brain out of the 1840’s and back to the sad world that is 2013. You read it again just to be sure, and you come to the realization that this edition has been marred by the dreaded red pen of censorship. This edition’s description of the enslaved boy, Jim, has been changed to “Aunt Polly’s little helper.”

You have to be kidding me. It’s not like Jim had a choice in the matter or even took enjoyment out of “helping” Aunt Polly.

The editors of this edition have taken offense to Twain’s description of Jim as “a small colored boy” and the various uses of the word “nigger” by omitting them completely and replacing them with bland terms one would expect to hear on a local channel’s broadcast of The Breakfast Club at 1 pm on a Saturday: “I’m a hot dog? No, you’re a hot dog.” It just don’t have the same emotional depth, does it?

What’s next? Are they going to walk into the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and slap a pair of shorts on Michelangelo’s statue of David?

They do realize that Tom Sawyer was written and set in the mid 1800’s, right?

Being close-minded and hypocritical in 2013 does not erase the fact that people were chained and held as property, forced to work in unsanitary and inhospitable conditions in a land that was supposed to be the home of the free and the brave.

Margaret Garner fled Kentucky with her family to Ohio, a “free” state; but thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, owners could cross into such states and take their “property” back. Garner and her children were trapped in a house near Cincinnati, but before the plantation owners could get their hands on Garner’s 2-year-old daughter, she cut the girl’s throat with a knife because it’s better to die free than live as a slave.

Garner became the fictional Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel Beloved. Oh, that book has a long history of being challenged and banned, too, so as to protect our children from the ‘horrors’ of the truth of our dark past.

A mother in Virginia has become the latest to wield the red pen, demanding that school officials ban the book because it gave her son- a senior in an advanced placement English class- nightmares after reading it.

High school students not only should have the mental capacity to discuss the moral implications of these subjects, but they should be encouraged to do so. Pretending it didn’t exist does nothing to honor the legacy of those who died, and it certainly doesn’t prevent such atrocities from happening again or learning from our mistakes.

If your son can’t handle an AP English assignment without nightmares then maybe they shouldn’t be in the class at all. Perhaps they also aren’t ready for college, nor the very real world of adulthood for that matter.

If a parent objects to their child reading something, that’s all fine and dandy; but it’s a whole new ball game if they think others shouldn’t be allowed to read it either. Who are they really protecting? It’s not the students, that’s for sure. They’re protecting themselves and the rose-colored glasses permanently attached to their eyes that hide the closed mind behind them.

Good literature sparks debate. Controversial books spark debate. Sometimes the debate is on the accuracy or validity of the subject presented, and sometimes the debate is whether or not it’s a good book for children to read and, if so, at what age.

But if the only view of the world outside the classroom window they are allowed to see is watered down, sanitized, and devoid of passion, purpose, and integrity, what quality of education have they really received? If simply reading a book can give them nightmares, then what therapy-inducing horrors will they be unable to face once they finally are allowed to leave their mommy’s side?

Literature is supposed to entertain, inspire, and initiate dialogue. The classroom is there to provide a structured environment for students to learn about these issues, develop critical thinking and debate skills, and apply that knowledge to the situations they will face throughout life. It is imperative to understand the past before you can prepare for the future.

If these overprotective parents are so concerned with the mental frailty of not just their children but everyone else’s, then I better not hear them complain when their sons are 40 years old and screaming upstairs from their little cave in the basement for more meatloaf.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions