Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University

6 Banned Books Around the World

Micah Avry Guiao and Carla Mei Reyes | Nov 8, 2018

Oscar Wilde once said, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” And he was right. Even as early as the 19th century, book censorship has been in place in attempt to maintain the status quo. Anything that negatively portrays the current regime or expresses any independent thinking that goes beyond what is accepted is deemed inappropriate and unfit for the reading public. 

Here in this list are six fictional books that have been famously banned all over the world.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 1955, Olympia Press “We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys human lives.” (p. 18)

Behind the lavish prose filled with allusions and word play lies the dangers of Lolita in its unreliable narrator’s story-telling. An erudite pedophile, Humbert Humbert utilizes the power of language to divert the fact that this novel tackles subjects like rape, murder, pedophilia, and incest. In fact, the novel was first published by a pornographic press in France. He is able to manipulate the readers into rationalizing his actions and sympathizing with him. Although the term “lolita” today denotes a promiscuous young girl, Vladimir Nabokov never intended to portray Lolita as such since she was, after all, merely described as an ordinary, stubborn child who often displayed unladylike behavior. Up until today, it is arguably the most controversial novel of the 20th century and it remains banned in Argentina and New Zealand.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 1937, Covici Friede

“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place… But not us.” (p. 13-14)

Being the second most banned book in the United States, Of Mice and Men introduces various personalities of the lower class during the depression-era of America.  This book encircles the concept of loneliness as various characters converse about their lives as factory workers.  If not for the characters’ violent nature, along with their profane and racist language, then this book would not have been deemed “inappropriate”.  Not to mention that its theme on Euthanasia induces a debate on whether the book propagates the act of mercy killings. Many parents were especially enraged when 13 year old students were required to read racist lines out loud, such as dialogues including the n-word. In its entirety, this book remains to be a topic of debate, where many continues to ask: does this book challenge one’s mind, or one’s morals?

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger 1951, Little, Brown and Company

“I don’t give a damn, except that I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I act a lot older than I am - I really do - but people never notice it. People never notice anything.” (p. 5)

Perhaps there’s no other book character that embodies teenage angst more than Catcher in the Rye. Crude and vulgar, it delves inside the unfiltered, internal monologue of Holden Caulfield experiencing psychological crisis. His excessive use of profanity and blasphemy, controversial views on several minorities, and depiction towards alcohol and prostitution have made it an ill-suited choice as a required reading for schools. Notably, “goddam” appears more than 200 times throughout the novel. Although widely regarded as a 20th century classic, the book was the most censored book in high schools from 1961 to 1982.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis 1991, Vintage Books

“I laugh maniacally, then take a deep breath and touch my chest -- expecting a heart to be thumping quickly, impatiently, but there's nothing there, not even a beat.” (p. 63)

Bret Easton Ellis’s book introduces the empty gruesome mind of Patrick Bateman: a murderer, torturer, and rapist.  He is introduced as a mere Wall Street investment banker who lives a successful and wealthy lifestyle, surrounded by a circle of friends who lives an equally extravagant lifestyle.  Seeing such a facade would make anyone believe that his life is close to perfect, but he hides some dark secrets. It is soon revealed that Patrick Bateman is a sociopathic serial killer, who possesses a dark sex obsession and an ever-present drug addiction.  Long passages are dedicated to describing, detail-per-detail, the gory crimes of Patrick Bateman. A book famously banned in Australia, this perfectly captures the inhumane life of someone who focuses too much on extravagance than authenticity.

Animal Farm by George Orwell 1945, Secker and Warburg

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (p. 40)

Banned in as many as 126 countries, Animal Farm explores the absolute power and corruption that entails a totalitarian rule. The story is almost constituted as a fairy-tale for adults. In fact, George Orwell wrote it in a way that is short and could easily be comprehended by all. A critique against communism, the story revolves around a number of animals plotting to revolt against their farmer in order to set up their own structure of government. Most of the events in the novel is an allegory to the events that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Soviet Union under the rule of Joseph Stalin. Today, the book remains banned in China, Burma, and North Korea.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 1932, Chatto and Windus

“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” (p. 215)

Aldous Huxley paints a utopian future, where individuality and creativity is looked down upon.  In fact, every character in the story is genetically modified by scientists, and the very concept of family, marriage, and religion is seen as a “threat” to the order of society.  Additionally, strange practices such as orgies, are seen as productive and beneficial; children are even forced to participate in sexual games to become comfortable in their own sexuality. It is an eerie reality which entails that the price of perfection is freedom - freedom to make mistakes, freedom to make art, and freedom to have a voice. Its sexual and violent language deems this book inappropriate by many countries, such as Ireland, Australia, China, and India.

Banned books demand our attention. More than anything, it evokes more reasons for it to be read.  The books that we fail to see on the shelves of our local bookstores entice the need for us to understand why—why are these books banned? And what does that say about us?

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