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The Value of Literature - Protecting the right to write

Writers throughout history have been able to break societal norms. Take Emily Dickinson who, as a woman in her time period, would have been unlikely to win respect or attention as an intellectual spinster. Her writing not only allowed her to explore Value of Literatures that might have been denied her otherwise, they gave her a place in society. More modern women writers, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, have been able to step out of constraints placed not only on their sex, but on their race as well, as both are African American. All women have written extensively on Value of Literatures close to their personal and ethnic history. And so the practice of writing can be liberating for the individual, but it cannot be deemed free as long as we, the readers, are faced with obstacles in accessing their works.

Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou make the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books from 1990-2000, with Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings as one of the titles objected to most often (ALA, 2003). Angelou’s work, a haunting autobiography that includes the author’s rape at the age of eight and her ongoing experiences as an African American child growing up in a white world, have sparked opposition from many detractors who wish to deny others the opportunity to read the book. In their efforts to suppress the reality of this segment of the population, they are also in essence limiting freedom.

Contemporary, minority writers are not the only ones to be singled out for challenging. Even fairy tales are not exempt, as Little Red Riding Hood was banned by two California schools because the heroine carried a bottle of wine in her basket, said to condone alcohol. Huckleberry Finn has been challenged for objectionable language and racist terms and content in multiple states across the country. Dickens' Oliver Twist has also been challenged based on parents protests that the book violated a child’s right to an education free of religious bias (Lancto, 2003).

Classical literature is also at risk; Shakespeare has long been the victim of censorship. In addition to outright prohibition of his plays, including 12th Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, MacBeth and King Lear, Shakespeare’s plays have also been subjected to numerous cleansings, in which crude words and phrases have been removed or replaced to make them less objectionable (Ockerbloom, 1993-2003). In a way, this type of censorship is even more disturbing, because it doesn’t just eliminate the author’s ideas, but misrepresents them.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, with a central theme of censorship, was censored for years before the unknowing and enraged author insisted on a reprint that left every hell and damn exactly where he had placed it (Lancto, 2003). If authors can be censored, even in small ways, without their consent, and author’s long gone have absolutely no say in how their works are changed, then how can we consider their literature free and unrestricted? Instead, literature comes to be a mutated account that conforms with what the general population chooses to promote and leads to a community in which individuals are not challenged to think and reason for themselves. Dunn (1998) recognizes that a call to banning and censorship threatens fundamental freedoms, because restricting access to information “dilutes a critical thinking approach”. A system that practices censorship cannot continue to be free.

Author Judy Blume, a contemporary writer targeting a primarily adolescent audience whose novels have been the frequent subject of challenges, intensifies the issue of how censorship influences a writer’s freedom, stating her concern that, "It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship” (quoted in Lancton, 2003 and ALA, 2003). Not only is access and content of literature not free due to censorship, censorship can curtail the freedom of authors to write about the Value of Literatures and in the voices that they would choose. One can only conclude that, ultimately, under current practices of censorship, literature is not free.

The writer’s life may seem freer than that of those employed in other professions, with the writer better able to pursue Value of Literatures and ideas of interest, even to the point of evading societal norms and rules. However, as long as the practice of censorship exists, literature will never truly be free. The control and banning of literature cannot exist within a realm of freedom.


Resources

ALA (American Library Association). (2003). The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, 1990-2000. Retrieved http://www.ala.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Our_Association/Offices/Intellectual_Freedom3/Banned_Books_Week

/Related_Links7/100_Most_Frequently_Challenged_Books_of_1990-2000.htm.

Dunn, K. A. (1998). Backsliding on Free Speech. Crisis 105(2),
13.

Lancto, C. (2003). Banned Books. World & I 18(9), 258-278.

Ockerbloom, J.M. (1993-2003). Banned Books Online. Retrieved at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/ books/banned-books.html.