• The Crestiad

English Seminar questions the banning of books and the first amendment

Amanda Connell


Is there any book that should be not be read? Perhaps.

A seminar course is considered to be any discussion-based course, where students do assigned readings and then discuss the ideas and meanings they encountered in the readings in class. The current English Seminar: Banned and Challenged Books is examining the issue of banning and challenging books in the U.S and worldwide for the last 130 years. The class uses books, corresponding films, and media to explore the ramifications of attempt

ing to control people’s access to ideas. 

On the first day, the class was presented with the First Amendment to the Constitution which states, “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.” This of course comes with some loopholes, such being one can only be allowed these rights at the age of 18, and it can only save us from the government, not other people. You can say anything you would prefer to for the most part and the government would not care, but the person sitting next to you might be extremely offended. 

It is clear from this that words have power, especially those words of the written variety. In the seminar course we have read two books so far: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath. While both explore harsh topics, the students in the seminar had their opinions about the novels and enjoyed the act of reading them. 

I definitely feel that banned books should be read,” says Jennica Nugent, a junior in the English Seminar. “I think there’s so much literary merit to these books. While some of the language used in the descriptions may not necessarily be easy to read or hear it is important to explore their use in literature. I think it is important to talk about the things seldom discussed in the world, because at the time it was considered socially acceptable to use those words. It’s important to look at history and not erase it, because it brings up conversation of ‘OK, why is this making us uncomfortable? How can we continue to talk about and use this as an example of how we were wrong to use those words? How are we going to learn from these mistakes?’”

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” follows the title character as he embarks on the journey of growing up in 19th century midwestern America, where he finds himself on a journey to help free a runaway slave named Jim. Throughout the novel Huckleberry Finn grows and changes his opinion till he becomes his own person. The novel was banned for harsh language, racy humor, and blatant racism. Keeping in mind that the racism is a product of its time, does the coming of age story of a young boy whose views grow with the changing of time deserve not to be read? 

Then there is “The Bell Jar”, which is the unchronological account of the fall of Esther Greenwood’s life. It follows a female honor student’s fall into mental health issues. It was banned for its graphic depictions of sexuality, and shunning of normal womanhood. Does it deserve to not be read, for this lack of conformation? 

With “The Bell Jar” I think just her literary descriptions of mental illness,” says Jennica Nugent, “her imagery with the fig tree and how she feels stuck between all of these decisions is a good representation of anxiety. It expresses things that one can necessarily into words. Sylvia Plath did a really good job of trying to explain her feelings and emotions for someone who is neurotypical. It is a way for us to possibly understand what people with mental illnesses go through.”

If a book or piece of literature differs from the norm, does that make it unworthy of being read? How does one determine exactly what is so untasteful and unworthy of peering eyes and minds?

No, if a piece of literature differs from the norm, it does not make it unworthy of being read. If anything it makes it more worthy of being read. This writing can therefore introduce a reader to new ideas, they never would have encountered before. 

If you are interested in keeping up with the class’s progress on these readings and ideas, follow one of the student’s blog on banned books: A Band of Banned Books on BlogSpot. The link: https://guptadigjouccc.blogspot.com/2020/02/did-you-know-huckleberries-are-state.html?m=1

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