Let’s Talk Banned Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”


Title: To Kill a Mockingbird (To Kill a Mockingbird, #1)
Author: Harper Lee

Age Group & Genre(s): Adult Literature, Young Adult, Classics, Coming of Age, Historical, Fiction
Mood: Nostalgia, Light-hearted, Dark, Eerie, Passionate, Bittersweet, Sad

Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Publication Date: 2006 (first published in 1960)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 324

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Source: Goodreads


Overview

In Harper Lee’s bestseller and award winning classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is a highly regarded story in world vastly different from ours today. Eloquently written with great attention to detail, Lee’s novel exposes the true nature of humanity, both our brightest and darkest parts. The reading age is approximately for Grade 3 to 6, yet this novel is more truthfully understand and appreciated for those in the Grade 9 to 12 reading category. Translated into forty different language and counting, this classic novel continues to be loved around the globe for its wonderfully accurate rendition of life in the South.

This review will contain spoilers. Additionally, this review will be blunt on certain issues.

Where has it been challenged or banned?

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird continues to remain in the top 10 banned books of all time, currently holding the fourth spot in the American Library Associations (ALA) most frequently banned and challenged classics list. So it’s going to be no shocker that the banned and challenged list is horrendously long. I’ll cover a few instances but not all. If you want to see the full list, please click here. However, this list isn’t actually up-to-date as it;s missing a few more recent cases.

Lee’s novel has been and continues to be challenged in a number of places. Schools and public libraries in New York, Illinois, California, Texas, and North Carolina are some of the more common cases. Furthermore, there are even places in both the United States and Canada that have successfully been able to file a challenge with success, removing copies from the shelves of public libraries or from the school curriculum…or both!

But what we really want to know is…why?!

Why has it been challenged or banned?

The challenges, book bans, and removals of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird tend to follow one or more of the following reasons: violence, profanity, and sexual content.

One. Violence: There are a number of violent parts in the novel; the scene where Tom attempts to escape, the physical violence inflicted upon Mayella, Scouts outburst of rage on others, and the violence brought upon Atticus and his children are a few examples. This is one of the least common reasons for the book banning.

Yes, there’s violence in the book…there’s violence everywhere today! To me, this is the biggest cop-out when it comes to challenging or banning this book. Our world is a beautiful place, but it’s also full of violence and darkness. The violence Harper Lee depicts is necessary to the story; it’s not placed simply to add graphic scenes and persuade that violence is the best course of action. Rather, Lee’s novel shows the darkness that can be found within the hearts of all people, and how we overcome such atrocities.

Two. Profanity and Offensive Language: Oh wow, what a shocker folks! When has society NOT been offended by some word or act in a novel or film? Answer is, never.

To Kill a Mockingbird does use a number of offensive words. The novel was challenged in Minnesota for the use of “whore lady” and “damn”. Furthermore, the frequent use of the n-word has caused major dispute for a number of years. School districts in Illinois and Missouri have challenged the book due to such racial slurs, though the challenge never went farther than this. In 2009, the book was actually banned from a Secondary School in Ontario for the use of racial slurs. Again in 2016, the Virginia school district pulled it off the shelves as it made students feel uncomfortable.

In their defense, there’s more profanity than I was expecting. Scout Finch, our main protagonist, is notorious for using foul language. Additionally, most of the people in the community (besides Atticus Finch) use the n-word as part of their everyday vocabulary.

Now, I’m probably going to sound insensitive here. Honestly though, people need to grow up a bit. As much as foul language and the n-word may bring discomfort, it accurately portrays the language of the time period in which this story takes place. In the words of Chris Sergel, the vice president of Dramatic Publishing: “Being uncomfortable with history is not means to change it…People need to figure out how to confront issues”. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. What’s wonderful is Harper Lee created a character who’s firmly against such profanities…Atticus Finch. He’s the almighty representation of a good and honest man, who displays civility and courage throughout the entire novel. Furthermore, he’s against using such words as the n-word. Lee’s message in the novel isn’t saying that these words are okay to say and use; she places them in the novel for the sake of authenticity.

I could vent on this FOREVER, but I won’t. So let’s move on…

Three. Sexual Content: The book was challenged in Tennessee regarding the themes of sexual intercourse, rape, and incest. These reasons have popped up a few times when it comes to attempting to ban Lee’s novel. The allegations against Tom for raping a young woman are one instance, which is a central part of the books plot. There’s also the question of incest with not only the Ewell’s but the subtle section near the beginning of Part Two that discusses how many cousins and second cousins in Maycomb have married to keep the bloodline.

Of course, this is a difficult topic for anyone to read. No one in their right mind wants to read about a woman being sexually assaulted or about incestual relations. Nevertheless, learning about these kinds of topics are part of growing up. We don’t live in a Utopic world; many forms of sexual violence still occurs today. What’s extremely depressing is that society teaches us not to talk about it, which means a number of violent acts happen to men and women yet are never reported. Similar to the taboo nature of talking about depression, society is notorious for pretending these things don’t happen.

Well guess what folks – it happens! Get over yourself and stop shutting people down for wanting to open up about their feelings! Not talking about it and pretending the world is full of sunshine and rainbows is not going to change a damn thing. Oh look, I pulled a Scout Finch.

I’m being extremely serious here. To this day, we’re told what’s socially acceptable to talk about and what to keep to ourselves. It’s not okay, and it’s literature like To Kill a Mockingbird that brilliantly fights against this ridiculous social stigma. Knowing about it gives us a chance to fight against it, to realize that acts like this are wrong and have consequences. No more hiding, no more pretending.

Final Thoughts

Jackie over at Too Much of a Book Nerd and I finished doing a buddy read of this. Discussing the content and going on about how much we love the novel really pushed me to make a banned book post on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. This book is beautiful yet tragic all at once. It shows the joys and innocence of childhood, while also displaying the darkness and cruelty that we humans can bring out into the world.

Yes, it includes violence. Yes, it contains foul language. Yes, sexual content is discussed in the novel.

So what!

Lee’s bestseller novel is remarkable and full of valuable life lessons, even if we don’t want to see or hear it. These topics that make people uncomfortable are not going to go away simply by ignoring it. We learn to mend and cope and conquer by understanding such topics and going forward.

I’ve read literature that includes extremely worse content, to the point I’m sometimes shocked at the lack of challenges and bans these books have faced. Yet To Kill a Mockingbird still remains as one of the most challenged and banned books in both the 20th and 21st Centuries.

If we could simply get past our insecurities, people could see how beautiful this book truly is. It’s a wonderful coming of age novel full of funny scenarios on growing up, tremendously beautiful scenes on familial love, and an overall outstanding appreciation for what manliness and bravery truly is.

Is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird on your TBR list?

Resources

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/to-kill-a-mockingbird-remains-among-top-banned-classical-novels/

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics/reasons

https://www.thoughtco.com/to-kill-a-mockingbird-banned-741685

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/school-district-weighs-ban-of-to-kill-a-mockingbird-huck-finn-after-complaint/2016/12/03/92701c80-b8b0-11e6-a677-b608fbb3aaf6_story.html?utm_term=.c8207267b883

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Kill_a_Mockingbird#Reception

8 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Banned Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  1. I didn’t realize this was such a highly banned book! I read this book in my English class in high school…and watched the movie! I think it teaches so many great lessons. How interesting! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, eh?! And honestly, not acknowledging that this stuff happened isn’t going to help…at all…it was so hard to not just completely rage while I was writing this lol!

      Like

  2. TKaM is one of my favorite books ever, and when I read it when I first read it ate age 14 I was OBSESSED with it, it left such an impression on me. It’s such an important book! This is such a great post, I love all the points you made! It’s such a shame when things that expose hard truths are banned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate the compliment, especially since I’m still working on my “Let’s Talk Banned Books” posts 🙂 I love it as well. The story as so much depth and meaning to it, it’s a shame people can’t see beyond that…I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

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