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Six Classic Novels Censored in the United States

By Kristin Masters. Aug 31, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Book History

As August draws to a close, we begin anticipating Banned Book Week - a time for celebrating the First Amendment and our freedom to read. Throughout history, people have recognized the transformative power of literature; governments, religious institutions, and even school districts have sought to contain that power by banning controversial books and —in some cases even ordering their destruction.


Yet banning a book often has the opposite effect: making a book all the more sought after. This happens for two reasons. First, many banned books are truly exceptional works of literature and have become part of the literary canon. They are perennial favorites in consistent demand by collectors. Meanwhile, some modern books such as James Joyce'’s Ulysses (burned in the US, England, Canada, and Ireland) were actually physically destroyed, limiting the number of first editions and printings.

Here'’s a look at some of the most frequently challenged books in the United States, and around the world:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald'’s The Great Gatsby is a staple of high school and college classrooms yet in 1987, Baptist College in Charleston, South Carolina challenged the book for "language and sexual references."
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, has long been a favorite target for censorship. In 1960, a teacher was even fired for assigning the book.  The novel was most recently challenged in 2009 in Missouri.
  • The publication of John Steinbeck'’s The Grapes of Wrath drew international attention. The book was burned by a library in Illinois and banned in Canada. Eleven Turkish booksellers faced a military tribunal for publishing, possessing, and selling the book. Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men, was equally controversial.
  • Librarians in Concord, MA banned Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885, just one month after it was published. Despite its status as one of the "Great American Novels," it has been censored, challenged, and criticized ever since.


  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, has been denounced by school districts countless times. One New York school district labeled it "a filthy, trashy novel." Despite having won a Pulitzer Prize, To Kill a Mockingbird continues to be challenged almost yearly.
  • George Orwell's novel 1984 was challenged in the United States for "being pro-communist and contain[ing] explicit sexual matter" and was also suppressed from the 1977 Russian International Book Fair. 
  • Burned in Nazi bonfires in Germany, The Sun also Rises  by Ernest Hemingway was also banned in Ireland and multiple US cities. A Farewell to Arms received a similar response, and For Whom the Bell Tolls was deemed “unmailable” by the US Post Office.

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Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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