The Human Costs of Banning Books: A Student Perspective
In honor of Banned Books Week 2017, we reached out to a current student to learn how books that have been subject of banning attempts have impacted him.
Why do we study literature? In a world increasingly predisposed to vocational and technical disciplines, we often find ourselves questioning why we spend our time in school reading Kurt Vonnegut and Jack London instead of learning how to fill out a tax return. Harper Lee won’t ever teach us how to put food on the table and pay our bills. Why waste our time on such seemingly impractical knowledge?
Because literature teaches us what it means to be human. The stories we read provide us the means to give expression to our most indescribable emotions. The stories we read afford us solidarity and comfort by reminding us that we share our humanity; for every emotion we seemingly cannot bear, we take solace in the stories of those who have experienced the same.
The Great Gatsby
When we read The Great Gatsby, we all think of the one thing we want so badly but can never seem to reach. We ponder our self-consuming desires, especially in this age of mass consumption. Gatsby’s excesses serve as a warning of the dangers of our own. We all have our green light; F. Scott Fitzgerald simply turned that unreachable, unquenchable desire into an elegantly simple symbol – a symbol we can share.
Of Mice and Men
In Of Mice and Men, we revel in friendship’s powerful bond and ponder its challenges. We share in George and Lenny’s tragedy as if it was our own. The tale teaches us that sometimes true friendship means doing what is difficult.
Brave New World
Brave New World reminds us of the grave importance of maintaining our individuality. Though he portrays a fictitious word, Aldous Huxley uncovers the base truth of some of our greatest fears. His story reminds us to proudly, unabashedly take a stand against the mindless march to conformity. In a political climate where our idiosyncrasies are sometimes equated to faults, Huxley’s wise words ring especially true.
The Sun Also Rises
In The Sun Also Rises, we reflect on the horrible feeling of being played, manipulated, and used – a terrible, helpless feeling. The bull fighting motif consumes our thoughts, as we imagine ourselves in that pen, chasing the phantoms concocted by a malevolent matador.
A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace shows us the pernicious effects of jealousy. In Gene and Finny, we see a wonderful friendship spoiled by envy. The reader is haunted by the persistence of guilt and pangs of regret that torture Gene. In our own lives, we see the negative cultural effects of a world dominated by social media, where our envy takes a toll on our self-esteem and leads us to paint a picture of our lives we perceive as presentable to others.
Literature, then, is a sort of manual for life. It gives us the means to understand that which is inexplicable, unbearable, and unforgettable.
These books have shaped my life. In my most trying moments, I find my own experiences inextricably intertwined with these stories.
When I long for something, I am sitting on that dock right next to Gatsby, hands stretched out toward the green light, beating on in boats against the current. When I find my friendships tested, I sit there with George as we rack our minds with an unfathomably difficult decision. When I struggle against the tide of conformity, I proudly take a stand with John the Savage and his relentless individualism. When I feel played and mistreated, I charge around that bullpen, vision clouded red with a wild rage. When jealousy clouds my judgment, I remember the inescapable regret dripping from Gene’s every word.
These books have all played an integral role in the construction of my character. But that is not all that they have in common. These works have been the target of banning attempts. We now find ourselves in Banned Books Week, where we celebrate our freedom to read these titles and many others.
The Human Costs of Banning Books
If we wish to ban books, we must first consider what we lose. Banning books does not simply throw some complications into the standard English class syllabus. Banning books robs us of the magic of literature. Each book banned deprives us of a valuable lesson in life itself. Each book banned destroys a chance to share a common emotion with our brothers and sisters, of past and present. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Literature is a library of the human experience.[/inlinetweet] As we limit that library, we forfeit valuable lessons in what it means to be human.
Connor Murphy is a Junior at the University of Notre Dame, studying Economics and Applied Mathematics. He works at the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, conducting impact evaluations of poverty programs. He is a Portland, Oregon native and avid Timbers and coffee fan.