Nobel and Pulitzer-winning author Toni Morrison has an impressive resume of literary hits and numerous awards, but with that comes a history of having those same novels censored. In January of 2012, the Plymouth-Canton Schools in Michigan was the latest setting in a long list of schools and libraries faced with censorship efforts for her novel, Beloved. Now, an Alabama state senator, Republican Bill Holtzclaw, is trying to ban her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, from all schools in the state on the grounds that its content and language are “objectionable,” according to the Alabama Media Group.
“The book is just completely objectionable, from language to the content,” Holtzclaw said, because the book deals with subjects such as incest and child molestation.
The 1970 novel is set in Lorain, Ohio- Morrison’s hometown- in the years following the Great Depression and chronicles one year in the life of Pecola Breedlove, a black girl with an inferiority complex due to her eye and skin color, who wishes for blue eyes so she can be praised and admired.
Holtzclaw made the comments as part of his reelection campaign announcement. The Alabama Media Group also reports that the Madison County, Alabama Republican Executive Committee was preparing a now-aborted censure against Holtzclaw for not publicly opposing Common Core, the federal Department of Education’s effort to make schools more competitive and to push critical thinking.
The novel’s censorship efforts in the past decade alone include being challenged- and later retained- in 2004 by the Kern High School District in Bakersfield, California due to complaints of the book’s sexually explicit material.
Then, in 2006, it was banned from the Littleon, Colorado curriculum and library shelves after complaints about the rape of an eleven-year-old girl by her father.
Moving on to 2007, it was challenged in the Howell, Michigan High School because of the book’s strong sexual content. The president of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education (LOVE) demanded that the county’s chief prosecutor review the book on the charge that teachers violated laws against the distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors. The county prosecutor responded: “Whether these materials are appropriate for minors is a decision to be made by the school board, but I find that they are not in violation of the criminal laws.”
It was challenged in the Delphi, Indiana Community High School’s curriculum on complaints against its inappropriate sexual content and graphic language.
Last year (2012) it was challenged in the Brookfield, Connecticut High School curriculum for “sex scenes, profanity, and age-appropriateness”. Up to that point students in the high school had been reading the book since 1995 without parental or student complaint.
It’s quite appropriate and expected for Senator Holtzclaw to be offended by rape and incest. He should be. I should be. You should be. It’s sick and it’s wrong. But not speaking about it and pulling the plug on the discussion is just as- if not more- harmful than the act itself. Just like with so many titles before and after The Bluest Eye, great literature is supposed to initiate discussion on social topics in hopes of finding a solution so that the horror faced by victims doesn’t happen anymore. It is a sad and tragic situation that many young people endure.
However, that’s just one aspect of this story and, as unfortunate as it is, the sexuality depicted and complained about overshadows an even more sinister and dark tragedy that is being left out of the discussion- the feelings of alienation and insecurity that almost every adolescent experiences.
The thought that if one just changes their eye and skin tone they will be perceived as beautiful is the real tragedy in young Pecola’s tale and is one that all high school students can relate to and that makes The Bluest Eye perfectly suited and appropriate for the targeted age group. We’re not talking about a fifth grade reading class, but 16 to 18 year olds.
The fact that Holtzclaw is an elected policy maker, entrusted to uphold the Constitution not to spit on it, is very troubling, indeed. To use a political seat for the express purpose to prevent your very constituents from exercising their guaranteed rights is the true unlawful act in relation to The Bluest Eye. The Supreme Court has ruled on that very subject- the censoring of the freedom of speech for political reasons violates the First Amendment. Perhaps policy makers should read the Constitution and how a federal government functions before becoming part of the policy process.
What’s even more disturbing than the support of his fellow party-members for his censorship efforts is their displeasure that his main goal isn’t in defeating the Unites States Department of Education’s push toward developing and improving educational standards and critical thinking skills across the nation.
Whether brown, blue, or hazel, what we really need is a world in which we have eyes of wisdom willing to look beyond our own petty personal preferences and insecurities towards a future that is better for all of us. A world where a child isn’t made to feel inferior because of the color of their eyes or their skin. A world where eyes aren’t judged by their color, but by their reflection of the humanity within.
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 http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/