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Most Famous Banned Books and Their Contents

Most Famous Banned Books and Their Contents
Throughout history, a huge number of books have been banned across the world for a whole
multitude of reasons. Obscenity, ‘vulgar’ language, denunciation of religion; you name it,
books throughout history have been banned on some of the most seemingly strange
grounds. Shapero provides you with a list of some of the most famous books to have ever
been banned, what they contain, and what was so controversial about them!
1. Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is noted as being one of the most heavily censored books
in history. It was published as a novel in 1951 and had its first censoring in 1960. It follows
three days in the life of protagonist Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old boy in New York City,
after he is expelled from school. It aimed to serve as a critique on the ‘phoniness’ of adult
life, and ponderously deals with themes of mental instability and sexuality. It has been
banned countless times by various school boards, predominantly on the grounds of vulgar
language and description of illicit sexual activities. However, there have also been some
wild-cards in its premise for censorship, including it being labelled “anti-white”.
2. To Kill A Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, was released in 1960. It follows the story of a
white family; it is simultaneously a coming-of-age story of a young girl, and a tale of racial
justice. The girl’s father is a lawyer, who throughout the course of the novel, is seen
defending a black man who has been wrongly accused of raping a white woman. This novel
is an interesting one in terms of its banning, as its chief reasoning for censorship is its
dealings with sensitive racial matters, but this comes from both sides of the aisle. Meaning, it
has been banned by both predominantly white schools who were essentially being racist and
citing that the book promotes racist tendencies towards white people, and predominantly
black schools who claimed that it was insensitive towards real issues regarding race and
contained the ‘n-word’.
3. The Color Purple
Another cornerstone in racial justice literature, Alice Walker’s the Color Purple was
published in 1982, a quickly became a hotbed for censorship. The novel is told through a
series of letters between the protagonist, Celie, who is a poor black woman living in the deep
south in the 1930’s, and a variety of other characters including her sister and God. It follows
her life and struggles from the age of 14, particularly addressing the abuse faced by many
women of her stature at the time. The main reason this book has been banned throughout
time has been its sexual explicitness; however, it is incredibly important to note that many of
the ‘sexually explicit’ passages are centred around sexual abuse, and it was one of the first
novels to actively acknowledge the abuse of black women during times of segregation at the
hands of white people. Other reasons the book has been banned have included that it
“connotes a negative image of black men”, and that are scenes depicting homosexuality.
4. Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov’s most well-known novel, Lolita, has a rather international history with
being banned. Most of the novels previously mentioned on this list have only been banned
within the U.S; Lolita was previously banned in France, England, Argentina, and New
Zealand. Lolita tells the tale of Humbert Humbert, a European who moves to the US and
falls into infatuation with the daughter of his landlord, who is named Lolita. At the time, he is
a grown man and she is 12. Thus, the main reason for its global banning is simply due to its
paedophilic themes, and the fact that it is incredibly unsuitable for minors to read.
5. Of Mice and Men
One of the most notable American classics in literature, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men
has had its fair share of censorships. Released in 1937, the novel shares the story of
George and Lenny, two friends who are looking for a job in the Great Depression and end up
working on a farm. Lenny has what we now would describe as an intellectual disability, so
George is always trying to keep him out of trouble. The book has been banned many a time
for containing profane language, as well as for using god’s name in vain. It has also been
banned for having a ‘violent’ ending, as well as containing the ‘n-word’, deeming it as racially
6. Animal Farm
A short book of incredible importance in the political world, George Orwell’s Animal Farm
was published in 1945. It details how a group of farm animals organise what is essentially a
grass roots revolution, and revolt against the farmers who they deem as being oppressive.
Predominantly in the US, its banning has revolved around the idea that George Orwell, and
the contents of the novel itself, promoted communism. The book has, however, also faced
international criticism. In 2002, Animal Farm was banned in the United Arab Emirates (a
predominantly Muslim country) for depicting alcohol and pigs, as well as other things which
do not align with strict Islamic values.
7. Satanic Verses
Satanic Verses, a novel released in 1988 by Salman Rushdie, is potentially one of the most
serious cases of book censorship in history. A heavily religious novel based on the life of the
prophet Muhammad, it follows two characters as they are miraculously saved from a plane
crash, and how they deal with divine intervention following this event. It was banned in all of
the following countries for its criticisms of the Islamic faith: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and India. The book
was burned in a few locations in England, and in Pakistan, five people were killed in riots
against the book. Various translators of the book were attacked in a series of incidences
over the novel, and it was illegal to own a copy in Venezuela (with a punishment of 15
months sentence in jail!).