Posted by: Allyson | September 29, 2008

Banned Books Week, Day 3

Finally, caught up!

Some authors have multiple works that are banned or challenged; Toni Morrison is one of them.  I’ll be addressing all her banned works in this post, because I think they are all worthy of mention, and if I tried to devote an entry to each one, I wouldn’t be able to give nearly as much attention to other books.  Plus, of Morrison’s books that have been banned, I can’t just pick one to focus on, and nor should I.  Writing about all of them will draw attention to all of them; I’d rather devote space to all three than just one, leaving the other two unrecognized.

As far as I can tell, only three Morrison books have been banned: The Bluest Eye, Beloved, and Song of Solomon.  (Please correct me if you know of more, but these are the only ones about which there is any information).  All three were among the 100 most challenged books between 1990 and 2000.

Beloved is one of my all-time favorite books; it was challenged in 1995 at the St. John’s County Schools in Florida.  It was also challenged in Maine in 1997 because of “language.”  It was one of the most frequently challenged books in 2006 for language and sexually explicit scenes.  Yes, Beloved does have explicit and strong language.  But it also has a compelling narrative, a supernatural horror aspect that made me shudder, and is an all-around amazing piece of art.  No book has ever frightened me the way Beloved has.  But it’s not just a horror novel; it’s also a novel that explores racism and America’s slaveowning past.  Yes, there are some highly sexual scenes, but those scenes are necessary for the book.  This isn’t some cheap pulp with sex scenes to get attention.  Everything in this book works as a cohesive whole; it wouldn’t be complete otherwise.  No, I wouldn’t give it to 9-year-olds, but high school students are certainly old enough to read it in their classrooms. 

The Bluest Eye, like Beloved, was one of the most challenged books in 2006, for the same reasons.  Now admittedly, The Bluest Eye is my least favorite Morrison novel.  But I also think it’s an important work, just as important as anything else she has written.  And I think in the case of The Bluest Eye, the book was banned not because it was “inappropriate,” but instead because of fear.  The Bluest Eye contains incest in the narrative.  People are afraid of incest; the want to deny incest; they don’t want to think or talk about incest.  But guess what?  Incest is real.  And it’s not going to go away if we’re afraid to talk about it, if we stifle books that talk about it.  Nothing is going to be solved if we feel the need to silence everything we don’t like.  While I am not the biggest fan of this book, I nonetheless think that The Bluest Eye is one of Morrison’s most important works because of the difficult topics it covers.  Not that Morrison ever wrote an “easy” book.  But I think that The Bluest Eye can be the most difficult to read because it discusses incest; but that difficulty makes it all the more important.

Song of Solomon is also one of my favorites, and my second favorite in the Morrison canon (my absolute most favorite Morrison novel is Sula).  It was challenged in 1993 in Columbus, Ohio, but was retained (Ohio can do things right once in awhile).  The challenge arose from the belief that the language was “degrading to blacks,” in addition to the book’s sexual explicitness.  Like The Bluest Eye, it was also challenged in St. John’s County Schools in 1995, and removed from reading lists and library shelves in Richmond County, Georgia school districts in 1994.  In 1998, the book was removed from the St. Mary’s County, Maryland schools, despire the protests of the faculty.  I don’t know, maybe we should let each individual black person decide for themselves whether or not the language is “degrading” to them.  The last I checked, Toni Morrison is a black woman – maybe she knew what she was doing when she was writing the book?  Okay, I know that colluders exist everywhere.  But I don’t see Song of Solomon as an act of collusion; I don’t see it as degrading at all.  No, it’s not a happy work at all.  It’s dark, complex, and difficult.  Magical realism at its finest.  I can’t help but wonder . . . was Song of Solomon banned for being “degrading” just because some people didn’t want to see the truth behind the book?  Because they wanted to stay in denial, and Song of Solomon doesn’t really allow for that?


Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like.


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