The Harbinger Online

The Right to Read

Design by Scout Rice 

 

My eyes scan the sheet of “The Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books” that laid on my desk. Sitting in my fifth hour honors English class, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. “Harry Potter?” “Captain Underpants?” “The Giver?”

But my strongest reaction came when I saw “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee on the list.

The fact that a student may be prevented from reading the thought-provoking works of Steinbeck and Lee saddened me. Both books altered my outlook on life after reading them for the first time last year in my 9th grade english class.

Through the wisdom of Atticus Finch, Scout Finch’s father, the novel inspired me to not lose hope as I began to realize the grim realities of the world around me.  As I read about Scout’s entangled journey through the loss of her childhood innocence in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I was beginning to lose my own.  

2016 was a traumatic year for our country. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be more and more hate, more violence, more discrimination.

The morning news was constantly being plastered with more ignorant and racist tweets from the president. Another innocent African American was shot and killed by a police officer. More civilians were killed in a terrorist attack in Europe.

Both “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” helped me understand the discrimination I was surrounded with and reminded me that I can fight it.  

The atrocious prejudice against women in “Of Mice and Men,” prompted me with a new interest in women’s rights. The unmerciful racial discrimination portrayed in both novels shook my sheltered “Shawnee Mission Wonderful” world.  And with all these new realizations I found an overall interest in equality and current social issues.

I have my 9th grade English class to thank for the guidance these books provided and the passions they sparked. The thorough in class discussions and insight from my teacher allowed me to see the deeper meaning of the books. For example, the once irrelevant mockingbird became a critical recurring symbol of innocent people being persecuted by evil.  Soon, I was finding examples of “mockingbirds” all throughout the “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

It is essential that students not only read these books, but that they also have the opportunity to be taught and guided through these books in class.

But what continues to confuse me is how students across the country are being banned from reading the very same books that single-handedly changed my life.  Without Honors English 9 and my teacher Mrs. Jackson, I probably would have never read either “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Of Mice and Men.”

It breaks my heart to think that some students won’t get to be changed by these novels. I’m just one girl — imagine what these books could do to a whole generation.

Although no specific books are banned at East, many classic books are being banned across the country.  However, these challenged books contain valuable lessons that outweigh the discomfort of the sensitive content.

Both “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” have come under fire due to the their frequent use of racial slurs. Throughout both novels, the N-word is used repeatedly, giving readers an idea of what life in the1930’s was actually like.

This hateful word is extremely offensive and degrading toward the African American community. I in no know way, shape, or form support the use of the slur today. However, I do believe it is beneficial for it to appear in the written text of these American classics.  

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Yes, the word is uncomfortable –– but even though history isn’t always comfortable, it still happened and it’s still real. In order for us to improve our society, we must know what our country used to be.

 

Through the use of the N-word, Lee and Steinbeck are showing readers the grave reality of racism, and in turn inspiring them to fight against it.

In “Of Mice and Men,” Steinbeck addresses another controversial topic: the degrading and mistreatment of women.  In the novel, the only female character is never given a name, but rather referred to as “Curley’s wife.”

Through this one small detail, the author is able to portray women as property, not people.  Back in the 1930s, this was the reality for most women in America: they were seen as only valuable for making their husbands happy and raising children.  

Ignoring this issue of sexism is dangerous. We must educate the current generation about our nation’s previous prejudice.

For those who believe these controversial topics are too distressing for young people, I say: let them read.  Let them read so they can see how far we’ve come toward equality, but also so they may see how far we have left go.

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