Challenge (literature)
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Challenge Literature

Challenged literature, a phenomenon that dates back to the early 1850's with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin,[1] is the attempt by a person or group of people to have literature restricted or removed from a public library or school curriculum according to the American Library Association (ALA). Challenges on literature remains a constant issue in today's society as most challenges stem from different views when it comes to social issues as books tend to be banned on either sexual or political grounds amongst others. When it comes to the challenging of a certain literature, there are three possible outcomes: Banned, retained, or restricted.

Scholars of this field have looked into why this is a common issue in the United States with Professors like Deborah Brandt suggesting it may be a 'sponsors of literacy' matter which looks at how people and/or organizations promote, teach, regulate, suppress literacy with our perception on children playing a key role.

According to the ALA, a successful challenge would result in removal of those materials, a form of censorship.[2] However, the ALA agrees that materials may be removed from libraries in appropriate circumstances[3] and Island Trees School District v. Pico suggested that books that are pervasively vulgar may be removed legally.[4]

Challenges in the U.S. and Canada--tracked by the Canadian Library Association's Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom, and the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee[5]--are often brought by parents wishing to prevent their children from having access to content that they deem to be inappropriate or offensive. The ALA suggests that, while parents and guardians should have the right to determine their children's access to library resources, that right applies only to their children and no library policy, such as restrictive scheduling or usage policies, should deny children access to library resources.[6]

The differences between challenging a book and banning were discussed by a columnist for American Decency who raised concerns that "efforts by parents to become involved in their children's education by raising questions concerning age-appropriate material" was being referred to as banning.[7] Similarly, former ALA Councilor Jessamyn West said, "The bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it's totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all."[8]

The ALA believes that it is important to monitor challenges made to books as well as actual bannings since a challenge may lead to self-censorship by those seeking to avoid controversy.[9]

Background of literary challenge

History (Uncle Tom's Cabin)

The first book to be challenged in the United States was Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852. Stowe's book talks about slaves being taken away from their families and being sold by their masters. When it first got released, the book sold more than 300,000 copies in less than 3 months,[10] and is considered to have changed the way people in the North viewed slavery.[11] However, the book was challenged by people in the South because they believed it portrayed a wrong image of slavery.[12][13]The confederacy removed the book from plenty of stores because they considered that it had a pro-abolitionist agenda, and that it sparked heated arguments about slavery between the North and the South.[1][14][15][16] Southerners even went as far as writing "Anti Tom" novels to argue that Stowe's arguments and depiction of slavery was completely incorrect and to expose their own point of view about slavery.[17]

Some scholars still challenge and criticize the book today. They object to the use of African American stereotypes in the book. The way black characters are depicted, e.g. the way they look, speak, and behave, is considered racist by many.[18] Some even think that the book had an important role in sparking the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln allegedly told Stowe: " So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!".[11] Because of this, some scholars even went as far as accusing the author of permanently cementing stereotypes of the black community into the minds of Americans.[19]

Common reasons for challenging books

  • Sexually explicit: According to the ALA, the books that are most commonly challenged are the books that contain sexually explicit content.[20] People who challenge books for this reason are usually opposed to the situations of sex displayed in them.[21] For example, the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood was challenged in 1990 at Rancho Cotati High School in Rohnert Park, California, because it was deemed as "sexually explicit". After deliberation, a committee formed by the school decided to retain the book in the curriculum.[22]
  • Offensive Language: Books that contain offensive language tend to be challenged. People commonly complain about books that include profanity such as the F-word or the N-word.[23]Looking for Alaska by John Green was banned in 2013 from the reading list at Sumner County school because of "inappropriate language".[24]
  • Encouraging of damaging lifestyle: Books that portray characters that make life choices deemed out of the norm are frequently challenged. These life choices include drug use, alcohol consumption, smoking, gambling amongst others. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, was banned in Monroe Township public schools in 2011 because parents complained about the drug use portrayed in the book.[25]
  • Religious Grounds: Books that contain unpopular religious views such as witchcraft or magic are often challenged. The challenges are often related to the satanic themes found in the book.[21]Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling has been challenged several times for its alleged promotion of witchcraft.[26]
  • Homosexuality: Books which promote same-sex relationships are frequently challenged. It is commonly argued that these books promote alternative lifestyles that are not supported by many. And Tango Makes Three By Justin Richardson and Henry Cole was removed from shelves at a Loudoun County, Virginia elementary school because of claims that it promoted a "homosexual agenda".[27]
  • Controversial content: According to Mychal Denzel Smith, people believe that it is wrong to talk about subjects such as racism because the subject is too controversial. According to him, children have been taught not to talk or learn about controversial topics, which leads to severe blindspots in the cultural education of today's generation.[28]The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison has been challenged multiple times for its portrayal of racism.[29]

Sponsors of Literacy

According to Deborah Brandt, sponsors of literacy are "agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy--and gain advantage by it in some way".[30] When it comes to challenged literature, Sponsors of literacy are at the forefront as they are the people or organizations responsible for attempts to ban literature. Intentions and reasoning of the sponsors when it comes to challenging literature, in particular literature intended for children, is addressed by Brandt. The author cites societies' perception of children as the problem as adults tend to believe children are molded by what they read and, if a certain literature goes against the beliefs and practices of a sponsor, they will attempt to ensure it is not read by the children which, in turn, causes the multiple controversies we see in schools, government, and even homes.

See also


  1. ^ a b "The History (and Present) of Banning Books in America | Literary Hub". Retrieved . 
  2. ^ "Support for dealing with or reporting challenges to library materials". American Library Association. Archived from the original on May 5, 2009. 
  3. ^ Krug, Judith (September 2006). "Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week". Curriculum Review. 46: 1. On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there. 
  4. ^ Island Trees School District v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982).
  5. ^ "Challenged Books and Magazines". Freedom to Read: Book and Periodical Council. 2009. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011. 
  6. ^ "Free Access to Libraries for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights". American Library Association. 
  7. ^ Thomas, Cal (September 22, 1995). "'Banned Books Week' Stokes the Fire". Muskegon Chronicle. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. 
  8. ^ West, Jessamyn (September 21, 2006). "Banned Books Week is Next Week". 
  9. ^ Doyle, Robert P. "Books Challenged or Banned in 2006-2007" (PDF). American Library Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 13, 2008. 
  10. ^ "Uncle Tom's Cabin is published - Mar 20, 1852 -". Retrieved . 
  11. ^ a b "Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Excitement and the Influence". Retrieved . 
  12. ^ "Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ohio History Central". Retrieved . 
  13. ^ "Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Fugitive Slave Act | Teaching with the Library of Congress". Lederle, Cheryl. 2014-06-17. Retrieved . 
  14. ^ "Slave narratives". Retrieved . 
  15. ^ "Reactions of Southerners". Uncle Tom's Cabin: Generating a Rising Tide of Responsibility to End the Institution of Slavery. Retrieved . 
  16. ^ "Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Matter of Influence | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History". 2011-11-28. Retrieved . 
  17. ^ Linda Williams, Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson, Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 113.
  18. ^ Hulser, Kathleen. "Reading Uncle Tom's Image: From Anti-slavery Hero to Racial Insult." New-York Journal of American History 2003 65(1): 75-79. ISSN 1551-5486
  19. ^ Smith; Jessie Carney; Images of Blacks in American Culture: A Reference Guide to Information Sources Greenwood Press. 1988
  20. ^ "ALA | Challenged and Banned Books". Retrieved . 
  21. ^ a b Commons, Information. "LibGuides: Banned Books: Reasons for Banning Books". Retrieved . 
  22. ^ Sova, Dawn B. Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds. New York: Facts On File, 2006. Print.
  23. ^ Crum, Maddie (2013-09-22). "7 Reasons Your Favorite Books Were Banned". Huffington Post. Retrieved . 
  24. ^ Titus, Ron. "Marshall University Libraries - Banned Book - John Green's Looking For Alaska". Retrieved . 
  25. ^ "Sex, drugs and jihad: why these 9 books were banned or challenged in N.J." Retrieved . 
  26. ^ "Harry Potter and 20 Years of Controversy - Intellectual Freedom Blog". Intellectual Freedom Blog. 2017-08-28. Retrieved . 
  27. ^ "LGBTQ Book Bans and Challenges". National Coalition Against Censorship. Retrieved . 
  28. ^ Smith, Mychal Denzel. (2015, March 26). White Millennials Are Products of a Failed Lesson in Colorblindness. PBS News Hour. Retrieved from millennials-products-failed-lesson-colorblindness/.
  29. ^ "Challenged Book: The Bluest Eye - Censorpedia". Retrieved . 
  30. ^ Brandt, Deborah. "Sponsors of Literacy." College Composition and Communication 49.2 (1998): 165-85.Print.

External links

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