The 10 Most-Banned Classic Novels

A list of some of the most controversial and challenged works

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Want to read a banned book? You'll have plenty of excellent novels from which to choose. There have been many attempts throughout history to suppress or otherwise censor works of literature, even works that have gone on to become some of the classic novels everyone should read. Authors such as George Orwell, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Toni Morrison have all seen their works banned at one time or another.

The list of banned books is massive, and the reasons for their exclusion varies, but books with sexual content, drug use, or violent imagery are banned most frequently, regardless of their literary value. Here are the top 10 most-banned classic works of fiction in the 20th century, according to the American Library Association, and a little bit about why each was considered controversial.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald's Jazz Age classic is one of the most-banned books of all time. The tale of playboy Jay Gatsby and the target of his affection, Daisy Buchanan, was "challenged" as recently as 1987, by Baptist College in Charleston, S.C. because of "language and sexual references in the book."

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

The stream-of-consciousness story of Holden Caulfield's coming of age has long been a controversial text for young readers. An Oklahoma teacher was fired for assigning Catcher to an 11th grade English class in 1960, and numerous school boards have banned it for its language (Holden goes on a lengthy rant about the "F" word at one point) and sexual content.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that tells the story of the migrant Joad family has been burned and banned for its language since its release in 1939. It was even banned for a time by Kern County, Calif., which is where the Joads end up, because Kern County residents said it was "obscene" and libelous.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

This 1961 Pulitzer-Prize winning story of racism in the Deep South, told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout, has been banned mainly for its use of language, including the "N" word. A school district in Indiana challenged it in 1981, because it claimed the book represented "institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature," according to the ALA.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

This novel's graphic portrayals of rape, racism, violence against women and sex have seen it banned by school boards and libraries since its release in 1982. Another winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Color Purple was one of more than a dozen books challenged in Virginia in 2002 by a group calling themselves Parents Against Bad Books in Schools.

Ulysses, by James Joyce

The stream-of-consciousness epic novel, considered Joyce's masterpiece, was not only banned for what critics viewed as its pornographic nature, but 500 copies were seized and burned by New York postal officials in 1922. The matter ended up in court, where a judge ultimately decided Ulysses should be available, calling it "a book of originality and sincerity of treatment, ant that it has not the effect of promoting lust."

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

The story of the freed slave Sethe has been challenged for its scenes of violence and sexual material. It also won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1988.

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

This tale of schoolboys stranded on a desert island is often banned for its "vulgar" language, and violence by its characters. It was challenged at a North Carolina high school in 1981 because it was considered "demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal."

1984, by George Orwell

The dystopian future in Orwell's 1949 novel was written to depict what he saw as serious threats from the then-budding Soviet Union. Nevertheless, it was challenged in a Florida school district in 1981 for being "pro-Communist" and having "explicit sexual matter."

Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov

It's little wonder that Nabokov's 1955 novel about middle-aged Humbert Humbert's sexual relationship with adolescent Dolores, whom he calls Lolita, has raised some eyebrows.

It's been banned as "obscene" in several countries, including France, England and Argentina, from its release until 1959, and in New Zealand until 1960.

For more classic books that were banned by schools, libraries, and other authorities, check out the lists at the American Library Association's website.

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Lombardi, Esther. "The 10 Most-Banned Classic Novels." ThoughtCo, Oct. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/most-banned-classic-novels-738741. Lombardi, Esther. (2017, October 18). The 10 Most-Banned Classic Novels. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/most-banned-classic-novels-738741 Lombardi, Esther. "The 10 Most-Banned Classic Novels." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/most-banned-classic-novels-738741 (accessed October 20, 2017).