I was first presented with the concept of censorship in my freshman year of high school with my English instructor’s overenthusiastic ‘celebration’ of Banned Books Week.
In the fourth week of class, I remember walking to my desk to the sound of Mrs. Burrows’ marker squeaking against the whiteboard as she feverishly wrote out the titles of five books: The Great Gatsby, 1984, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, To Kill a Mockingbird and Junie B. Jones. Upon turning around, she asked the class what these books had in common, a question met by a combination of blank stares.
She tried a second time. “What is this week a celebration of?” Once again, she received deafening silence in response. Shaking her head, she scrawled the word ‘censorship’ on the board and thus began a semester long unit centered on the theme of censorship throughout literature and history.
Perhaps due to my own ignorance, and in part due to my school system’s previous lack of focus on the topic, censorship in first-world countries was a new concept to me. I knew of course that it existed throughout the world in the form of government oppression for the purposes of assuring no anti-political media was being fed to the public or no irreligious ideas were being spread in conservative countries. I never imagined, however, that censorship was an issue in America—an issue that is very much a concern today.
The notion that a writer armed with nothing more than an idea and pen could serve as such as a powerful weapon is a curious one. What is it about the written word that so frightens us, compelling governments to implement laws banning the products of an author’s ambition—the compilation of ideas written on the backs of coffeehouse napkins, stories etched into journals with the hope that someday, those very stories would be “enough” to really touch someone in the way only words can. Perhaps this is the very reason literature intrigues so many people just as it repels others. Willingly exposing yourself to a literary work is somewhat of an unspoken consent in allowing another’s ideas to merge with your own. This silent revolution is one world leaders are hopelessly trying to extinguish—feeding words into the mouths of authors with the threat of reducing them to oblivion. Ironically, by limiting the idea authors can share, this threat is already implemented. It is essential for our writers to not fall into this trap—to continue penning their unfiltered ideas—and being willing to brace the criticism doubtlessly endured by all great art. Just as the tragic heroes, the protagonists of our favorite tales must go through hell and back to become victorious, and the brilliance behind these tales, the authors, must take just as difficult of a journey in making the choice between submission to the mainstream literature or the struggle of penning their true words. The takeaway? Write warily, pen with caution, and allow your true voice to resonate.
Written by Nav Kaur, ’18
I was recently writing a chapter for my thesis about the banning/censorship of literature as a motif within the three novels I was working on. Only to come to the realisation that all 3 had in turn been banned books!
P.s. I had phone troubles so if you get two almost identical comments feel free to delete one!