Sometimes stories stick with you. Whether it be the characters, the emotion it evokes or the time and place where you felt this book connected with you on some grand level; they latch on like a bloodthirsty leech. For me, it’s been The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. For those who are unaware of this story, it depicts a bull, Ferdinand, that would much rather smell flowers and be chill than train to be in a bullfight. When it was published in 1936, it stood as your typical American children’s book.
This, however, is not the whole story.
Because of the adverse attitude of this amiable bull, this book was pegged as a story of nonconformist and was then banned, burned, and discredited under both Nazi Germany and the orders of the Prime Minister of Spain during that period, Francisco Franco. Naturally this causes me to think: what are they so scared of? The only answer I can truly come up with is that they did not want to promote nonconformity in a time when conformity was not only expected, but demanded.
This story with this history always makes me think about the censorship around us that goes unnoticed. Why do some believe that they know what’s best for us? I have grown fascinated with trying to decipher the hidden intentions that this act of banning would convey. I call to the stand, debatably the most challenged book in American history, George Orwell’s 1984. I can personally say that this was a book that was assigned to me in highschool. When it was written in 1949, however, this was most definitely not the case. Are we to assume that our mothers, fathers, teachers, board execs, libraries and whoever may have authority over our book choices are trying to shelter us from bad writing? Is this book going to physically pain me to read? Will a papercut kill me? Or, does it promote a metaphorical representation of the dangers of a “made up” country that has full control of censorship and illustrates the consequences of blind faith? I don’t know, you tell me.
How about, to modernize this a bit, we talk about Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This popular book turned movie became a bestseller years after its first release in 1999. According to the Marshall University library, in as recent as 2016, this book was taken out of the required reading list in the state of Connecticut's Wallinford high school. I’m sure you’re just as curious as I am about the reason behind the banning of this book in what I had hoped was a highly progressive era.
It was a parent.
This parent believed that it was an inappropriate book because of the influence of “‘homosexuality, date rape, masturbation, and the glorification of alcohol use and drugs.’" It is not any safer to shelter our children--especially in this case high school students. Its 2016, being homophobic is so off trend. As much as it is disgusting, things such as date rape, excessive alcohol abuse and drugs are part of our culture. By concealing the evils of the world, naivete takes place and although we all wish we were ignorant of these horrors, we cannot be. Also, in this story specifically, mental illness is painted both beautifully and painfully. But, then again, reading content on being aware and detecting signs of mental illness doesn’t outweigh the “inappropriate influence” of homosexuality, right?
Censorship is flawed. It’s time we abolish all misconceived notions of literature and use the possibly risky content to change the world and manifest the kind of change these books are calling for.