Controversial and Banned Books

Why These Controversial Novels Were Censored and Banned

Books are banned every day. Do you know some of the most famous examples of books that have been censored? Do you know why they've been challenged or banned. This list highlights some of the most famous books that have been been banned, censored or challenged. Take a look!

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"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Bedford/St. Martin Press

Published in 1884, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain has been banned on social grounds. Concord Public Library called the book "trash suitable only for the slums," when it first banned the novel in 1885. The references to and treatment of African Americans in the novel reflect the time about which it was written, but some critics have thought such language inappropriate for study and reading in schools and libraries.

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"Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank
Bantam Books

"Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" is an important work from World War II. It chronicles the experiences of a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, as she lives under Nazi occupation. She hides with her family, but she is eventually discovered and sent to a concentration camp (where she died). This book was banned for passages that were considered "sexually offensive," as well as for the tragic nature of the book, which some readers felt was a "real downer."

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"The Arabian Nights"

Arabian Nights
W.W. Norton & Co.

"The Arabian Nights" is a collection of tales, which has been banned by Arab governments. Various editions of "The Arabian Nights" were also banned by the U.S. government under the Comstock Law of 1873.

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"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin

The Awakening Kate Chopin
Bedford/St. Martin Books

Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening" (1899), is the famous tale of Edna Pontellier, who leaves her family, commits adultery, and begins to rediscover her true self — as an artist. Such an awakening is not easy, nor is it socially acceptable (particularly at the time the book was published). The book was criticized for being immoral and scandalous. After this novel was met with such scathing reviews, Chopin never wrote another novel. "The Awakening" is now considered an important work in feminist literature.

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"The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath

"The Bell Jar" is the only novel by Sylvia Plath, and it is famous not only because it offers shocking insight into her mind and art, but also because it is a coming-of-age story — told in the first person by Esther Greenwood, who struggles with mental illness. Esther's suicide attempts made the book a target for book censors. (The book has been repeatedly banned and challenged for its controversial content.)

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"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

Published in 1932, Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" has been banned with complaints about the language used, as well morality issues. "Brave New World" is a satirical novel, with a stringent division of the classes, drugs, and free love. The book was banned in Ireland in 1932, and the book has been banned and challenged in schools and libraries across the United States. One complaint was that the novel "centered around negative activity."

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"The Call of the Wild" by Jack London

Call of the Wild
Simon & Schuster

Published by American author Jack London in 1903, "The Call of the Wild" tells the story of a dog who reverts to his primordial impulses in the frigid wilds of the Yukon territory. The book is a popular piece for study in American literature classrooms (sometimes read in conjunction with "Walden" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"). The novel was banned in Yugoslavia and Italy. In Yugoslavia, the complaint was that the book was "too radical."

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"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

The Color Purple

"The Color Purple," by Alice Walker, received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but the book has been frequently challenged and banned for what has been termed "sexual and social explicitness." The novel involves sexual assault and abuse. Despite the controversies concerning this title, the book was made into a motion picture.

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"Candide" by Voltaire

Viking Penguin.

Published in 1759, Voltaire's "Candide" was banned by the Catholic Church. Bishop Etienne Antoine wrote: "We prohibit, under canonical law, the printing or sale of these books..."

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"The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye
Back Bay Books

First published in 1951, "The Catcher in the Rye" details 48 hours in the life of Holden Caulfield. The novel is the only novel-length work by J.D. Salinger, and its history has been colorful. "The Catcher in the Rye" is famous as the most censored, banned and challenged book between 1966 and 1975 for being "obscene," with an "excess of vulgar language, sexual scenes, and things concerning moral issues."

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"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451
Simon & Schuster

Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" is about book burning and censorship (the title refers to the temperature at which paper burns), but the topic hasn't saved the novel from its own exposure to controversy and censorship. Several words and phrases (for example, "hell" and "damn") in the book have been deemed inappropriate and/or objectionable.

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"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck

Grapes of Wrath

"The Grapes of Wrath" is a great American epic novel by John Steinbeck. It depicts a family's journey from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California in search for a new life. Because of its vivid portrayal of a family during the Great Depression, the novel is often used in American literature and history classrooms. The book has been banned and challenged for "vulgar" language. Parents have also objected to "inappropriate sexual references."

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"Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels
W.W. Norton & Co.

"Gulliver's Travels" is a famous satirical novel by Jonathan Swift, but the work has also been banned for the displays of madness, the public urination, and other controversial topics. Here, we are transported to through the dystopian experiences of Lemuel Gulliver, as he sees giants, talking horses, cities in the sky, and much more. The book was originally censored because of the politically sensitive references Swift makes in his novel. "Gulliver's Travels" was also banned in Ireland for being "wicked and obscene." William Makepeace Thackeray said of the book that it was "horrible, shameful, blasphemous, filthy in word, filthy in thought."

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"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Bantam Books

Maya Angelou's autobiographical novel "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" has been banned on sexual grounds (specifically, the book mentions her rape, when she was a young girl). In Kansas, parents attempted to ban the book, based on the "vulgar language, sexual explicitness, or violent imagery that is gratuitously employed." "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is a coming-of-age story that's packed with unforgettable poetic passages.

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"James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach

Roald Dahl's noted book "James and the Giant Peach" has been frequently challenged and banned for its content, including the abuse that James experiences. Others have claimed that the book promotes alcohol and drug use, that it contains inappropriate language, and that it encourages disobedience to parents.

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"Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover
Signet Classics

Published in 1928, D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" has been banned for its sexually explicit nature. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel.

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"A Light in the Attic" by Shel Silverstein

A Light in the Attic

"A Light in the Attic," by poet and artist Shel Silverstein, is beloved by readers young and old. It has also been banned because of "suggestive illustrations." One library also claimed that the book "glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient."

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"Lord of the Flies" by William Golding

The Lord of the Flies

By the time that William Golding's novel "Lord of the Flies" was finally published in 1954, it had already been turned down by more than 20 publishers. The book is about a group of schoolboys who create their own civilization. Despite the fact that "Lord of the Flies" was a bestseller, the novel has been banned and challenged — based on the "excessive violence and bad language." For his body of work, William Golding received the Nobel Prize for literature and he was knighted.

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"Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary
Oxford University Press

Published in 1857, Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" was banned on sexual grounds. In the trial, Imperial Advocate Ernest Pinard said, "No gauze for him, no veils — he gives us nature in all her nudity and crudity." Madame Bovary is a woman full of dreams — without any hope of finding a reality that will fulfill them. She marries a provincial doctor, tries to find love in all the wrong places, and eventually brings about her own ruination. In the end, she escapes in the only way she knows how. This novel is an exploration of the life of a woman who dreams too large. Here adultery and other actions have been controversial.

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"Moll Flanders" by Daniel Defoe

Moll Flanders
Oxford University Press

Published in 1722, Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders" was one of the earliest novels. The book dramatically depicts the life and misadventures of a young girl who becomes a prostitute. The book has been challenged on sexual grounds.

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"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men

Published in 1937, John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" has been frequently banned on social grounds. The book has been called "offensive" and "vulgar" because of the language and characterization. Each of the characters in "Of Mice and Men" is affected by physical, emotional or mental limitations. In the end, the American Dream is not enough. One of the most controversial topics in the book is euthanasia.

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"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
W.W. Norton & Co.

Published in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" was censored on sexual grounds. The book has been challenged under claims that it is "pornographic and obscene." The story centers around Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman with an illegitimate child. Hester is ostracized and marked with the scarlet letter "A." Because of her illicit affair and the resulting child, the book has been controversial.

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"Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon
Random House

Published in 1977, "Song of Solomon" is a novel by Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate in literature. The book has been controversial on social and sexual grounds. References to African Americans have been controversial; also a parent in Georgia claimed it was "filthy and inappropriate." Variously, "Song of Solomon" has been called "filth," "trash," and "repulsive."

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"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is the only novel by Harper Lee. The book has been frequently banned and challenged on sexual and social grounds. Not only does the novel discuss racial issues in the South, but the book involves a White attorney, Atticus Finch, defending a Black man against rape charges (and all that such a defense entails). The central character is a young girl (Scout Finch) in a coming-of-age story -- fraught with social and psychological issues.

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"Ulysses" by James Joyce

Ulysses - James Joyce

Published in 1918, James Joyce's "Ulysses" was banned on sexual grounds. Leopold Bloom sees a woman on the seashore, and his actions during that event have been considered controversial. Also, Bloom thinks about his wife's affair as he walks through Dublin on a famous day, now known as Bloomsday. In 1922, 500 copies of the book were burned by the United States Postal Service.

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"Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin
W.W. Norton & Company

Published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was controversial. When President Lincoln saw Stowe, he purportedly said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war." The novel has been been banned for language concerns, as well as on social grounds. The book has been controversial for its portrayal of African Americans.

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"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time
Holtzbrinck Publishers

"A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeleine L'Engle, is a mix of science fiction and fantasy. It's the first in a series of books, which also includes "A Wind in the Door," "A Swiftly Tilting Planet," and "Many Waters." The award-winning "A Wrinkle in Time" is a bestselling classic, which has also stirred up more than its fair share of controversy. The book is on the Most Challenged Books of 1990-2000 book list — based on claims of offensive language and religiously objectionable content (for references to crystal balls, demons, and witches).

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Your Citation
Lombardi, Esther. "Controversial and Banned Books." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Lombardi, Esther. (2021, September 7). Controversial and Banned Books. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "Controversial and Banned Books." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).